He was alternatively described as the head of its security section, a senior intelligence official and as a founder of the organization. Sometimes described as a "master terrorist", Mugniyah ( pictured) had been implicated in the 1983 bombings of the U.S. Embassy, and U.S. Marine and French peacekeeping barracks, which killed over 350, as well as the 1992 bombings of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires and the kidnapping of dozens of foreigners in Lebanon in the 1980s.
Limited information is known about him. He used the alias of Hajj . Mughniyah is included in the European Union's list of wanted terrorists and had a US$5 million bounty on the U.S. Most Wanted Terrorist list
According to his Lebanese passport application, Mughniyah was born in Tayr Dibba, a poor village in southern Lebanon. CIA South Group records state that he lived in Ayn Al-Dilbah; a ghetto in South Beirut. His father was a vegetable seller and during the civil war, his house was on the Green Line.
Little is known about his adolescence, but he is thought to have joined Yasser Arafat's Force 17 in 1976. His role at that time was as a sniper, targeting Christians across the Green Line. At some point, he spent a year at the American University of Beirut.
Mughniyah has been implicated in many of terrorist attacks in the 1980s and 1990s, primarily American and Israeli targets. These include the April 18, 1983 bombing of the United States embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, which killed 63 people including 17 Americans. He was later blamed for the October 23, 1983 simultaneous truck bombings against French paratroopers and the U.S. Marine barracks). The attacks killed 58 French soldiers and 241 Marines. On September 20, 1984, he attacked the US embassy annex building. The United States indicted him (and his collaborator, Hassan Izz al-Din) for the June 14, 1985 hijacking of TWA Flight 847, which resulted in the death of U.S. Navy diver Robert Stethem . He was also linked to numerous kidnappings of Westerners in Beirut through the 1980s, most notably that of Terry Anderson. Some of these individuals were later killed, such as U.S. Army Colonel William Francis Buckley. The remainder were released at various times until the last one, Terry Anderson was released in 1991.
He had been described as "tall, slender, well-dressed and handsome ... penetrating eyes," speaking some English but better French.
Relationships to al Qaeda and other organizations
Mughniyah had been accused of being an ally of the terrorist organization al-Qaeda. According to the testimonies there was a meeting between Mugniyah and al-Qaeda operatives in 1993. This connection has led some to believe he was also behind the 1996 attack on the al - Khobar Towers complex in Saudi Arabia , which resulted in the deaths of 19 American service members, 1998 attacks on the U.S. embassies in East Africa and the USS Cole bombing in 2000.
Some foreign policy experts, including conservative Michael Ledeen, have claimed that Mughniyah had a strong working relationship with Al Qaeda and Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, especially in recent years with the invasion of Iraq. However, most experts speculated that Zarqawi's intense hatred towards Shiite Islam, to which Mughniyah belonged, would have prevented such an alliance.
He had also been linked to Palestinian actions, such as the Karine A incident in 2002, where the Palestinian Authority was accused of importing fifty tons of weapons. As mentioned above , he was previously a member of Force 17, an armed branch of the Fatah movement charged with providing security for Yasser Arafat and other prominent PLO officials.
In mid-February 1997, the pro-Israeli South Lebanese Army radio station reported that Iran's intelligence service had dispatched Mughniyah to Lebanon to directly supervise the reorganization of Hezbollah's security apparatus concerned with Palestinian affairs in Lebanon and to work as a security liaison between Hezbollah and Iranian intelligence. Mughniyah also reportedly controlled Hezbollah's security apparatus, the Special Operations Command, which handles intelligence and conducts overseas terrorist acts.
Although he used Hezbollah as a cover, he reported to the Iranians.
The European Union lists him as "Senior Intelligence Officer of Hezbollah".
Actions of law enforcement
Various law enforcement agencies have attempted to capture Mugniyah. The United States tried to secure his capture in France in 1986, but were thwarted by French refusal to detain him.
The United States tried to capture him several times afterwards, the first being a 1995 attempt to detain him as the plane he was traveling on was supposed to stop in Saudi Arabia. However, Saudi officials refused to allow the plane to land. The next year, U.S. military personnel planned to seize him off a ship in Doha, Qatar, but the operation was called off. This plan, dubbed Operation RETURN OX, was carried out by ships and sailors of Amphibious Squadron Three (USS Tarawa, USS Duluth, USS Rushmore), Marines of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, and Navy SEALS assigned to the U. S. Fifth Fleet. The operation was underway, but was canceled at the last minute when it could not be verified that Mughniyah was actually on board the Pakistani ship.
On October 10, 2001, Mugniyah appeared on the initial list of the FBI's top 22 Most Wanted Terrorists, which was released to the public by President Bush, with a reward of up to $5 million offered for information leading to his arrest. This reward remains outstanding.
The Israeli government has also made several alleged attempts to assassinate Mugniyah. His brother Fouad Mugniyah was killed in a 1994 Beirut car bombing. (Another brother, Jihad, was killed in a car-bombing assassination attempt on the life of Hezbollah founder Sheikh Fadlallah in 1985, this one rumored to be the work of the CIA via the South Lebanese Army.)
Mughniyah has been formally charged by Argentina with participating in the March 17, 1992 bombings of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, which killed 29 and the AMIA cultural building in July 1994, killing 86 people. He has been accused of orchestrating the 2000 abductions of three Israeli soldiers in the southern part of Lebanon and the kidnapping of Israeli businessman Elchanan Tenenbaum, and the more recent attack on Israel, killing eight soldiers and abducting two.
According to Robert Baer, "Mughniyah is probably the most intelligent, most capable operative we’ve ever run across, including the KGB or anybody else. He enters by one door, exits by another, changes his cars daily, never makes appointments on a telephone, never is predictable. He only uses people that are related to him that he can trust. He doesn’t just recruit people."
Recent articles by the Counter-terrorism Blog and by The New Yorker Magazine suggest that Mugniyah recently attended a meeting between Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. He was there representing Hezbollah in Lebanon. According to the same articles, Mugniyah had been informed that he was at the top of a US military and CIA assassination list. For this reason, he was said to avoid certain areas of Beirut for fear of being killed by CIA, or U.S. Special Operations Hunter/Killer teams.
Imad Mughniyah was killed on February 12, 2008 by a car bomb blast around 11:00 pm local time in the Kfar Suseh’s upscale neighborhood of Damascus, Syria. He had reportedly been the target of the Israeli Mossad in the 1990s, but Israel denied being behind the killing.
Iran has condemned the killing describing the attack as "yet another brazen example of organized state terrorism by the Zionist regime", but the US State Department said Wednesday the "world is a better place without Imad Mughniyah” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters
Sources: Ya Libnan, Wikipedia, AP
Tags: Beirut, Damascus, Hezbollah, Imad Mughaniyah, Iran, Israel, Lebanon