Posted by Joshua on Wednesday, February 13th, 2008
See interesting discussion of who may be behind the murder, here.
Hezbollah Commander, Wanted by U.S., Killed in Syria (Update 3)
By Massoud A. Derhally
Feb. 13 (Bloomberg) — Imad Mughniyeh, a commander of Lebanon's Hezbollah militia wanted by the U.S., was killed by a car bomb in Damascus, the Shiite Muslim group said.
“The martyr Mughniyeh was killed late yesterday evening'' in the Syrian capital, Ghalib Abu Zainab, a member of the Political Council of Hezbollah, said in a telephone interview from Beirut today.
Mughniyeh was indicted in the U.S. for the 1985 hijacking of a TWA Corp. airliner, during which an American Navy diver was killed. Israel has accused him of involvement in the 1990s bombings of the Israeli Embassy and a Jewish center in Argentina that killed more than 120 people.
The U.S. also wanted Mughniyeh for the April 18, 1983, bombing of the American Embassy in Beirut, al-Arabiya television said. Seventeen U.S. officials, including Robert Ames, the Central Intelligence Agency's top Middle East analyst, and other CIA staffers were among the 63 people who died in that attack.
In a statement, Hezbollah said Mughniyeh was killed “by the Israeli Zionists.'' His funeral will be held tomorrow, it said. Mughniyeh was 45, according to al-Arabiya.
“There are so many countries and intelligence organizations that had an account to settle with this guy that it could be a great many people,'' Yossi Alpher, a former official with Israel's Mossad intelligence agency and one-time adviser to former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, said in an interview today. “Anybody who has an interest in stopping global terrorism should be satisfied that he's removed from the scene.''
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office said in a pager message, “Israel rejects the attempts being made by terrorist groups that try to tie Israel to the incident.''
Mughniyeh, who also went by the name of El-Haj Radwan, was on the FBI most-wanted terrorists list, with a $5 million reward for information leading to his capture or conviction.
“It's a big blow and very significant blow no matter who did it,'' Paul Salem, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center, said in a telephone interview from Beirut.
“This was done in Damascus,'' he said, adding that, if the Hezbollah commander was killed by Syria, “then it's enormously significant and, if not, then who was able to penetrate Damascus so coolly and comfortably?''
Mughniyeh was a hard target and his killing could be part of a deal between the U.S. and Syria, Salem said. “He was one of the figures that was always asked for by name by the U.S. If, and it's a big if, it's part of a Syrian agenda, it means that the U.S. and Syria must be making progress and there is some deal- making on Lebanon.''
Abdel Halim Khaddam, a former Syrian vice president and once a right-hand man to late President Hafez al-Assad, said he doubted the likelihood of such a deal.
“Such a deal is unrealistic in this day and age,'' Khaddam said in an interview today from his home in Paris.
The site where Mughniyeh was killed is in a security area, in close proximity to an Iranian school and the offices of the Syrian intelligence services and military intelligence unit, Khaddam said.
Mughniyeh's death comes before a rally tomorrow that is expected to draw tens of thousands of Lebanese to central Beirut to mark the third anniversary of the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.
United Nations investigators said Lebanese and Syrian intelligence officials, including the brother and brother-in-law of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, were implicated in the truck bombing that killed Hariri. Syria has denied any involvement.
“There seems to be a steady attempt to push Syria, and right now the United States and the West has very little leverage over Syria, and I think this is frustrating everybody in Washington as they see Syria asserting its authority in Lebanon,'' said Josh Landis, a specialist on Syria and director of the Center for Peace Studies at the University of Oklahoma. “They've run out of tools and the only thing Bush can say now is that he's going to get a fully funded investigation'' into Hariri's assassination.
The fact that Mughniyeh was killed just before Hariri's anniversary “means that there could be demonstrations by Hezbollah supporters today and tomorrow,'' Ted Karasik, senior political scientist at the Rand Corp. consulting company, said in an interview today. “He was killed in order to ignite confrontation on streets.''
Lebanon has been without a head of state since Nov. 23, when Syrian-backed Emile Lahoud left office at the end of his term. The dispute over the post has threatened to ignite civil strife in the country. The crisis is the worst since the end of Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war. Lebanese lawmakers have failed to elect a president on 14 occasions.
To contact the reporter on this story: Massoud A. Derhally in Amman, Jordan, at.
Profile: Imad Mughniyeh
13 February 2008
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2008. All rights reserved
Hizbullah's latest 'martyr' has been on the FBI's most wanted list since the 1980s and is accused by Israel of masterminding the 2006 war in Lebanon
Imad Mughniyeh, killed by a car bomb in Damascus on Tuesday night, was a top military leader of the Lebanese Hizbullah organisation, which is mourning him today as a "martyred" hero of its 20-year campaign against Israel and the US.
Mughniyeh has been on the FBI's most wanted list since the 1980s, long before al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden became bywords for terrorism. Working with a shadowy Shia group known as Islamic Jihad, he was blamed for the kidnapping of western hostages in Beirut – including the Briton Terry Waite – and a 1983 bombing that killed 240 US marines in the Lebanese capital.
In 1984, Mughniyeh was said to have been behind the kidnapping and killing of the CIA station chief in Beirut, William Buckley. From the start he was linked closely to Iran's Revolutionary Guards, still Hizbullah's strategic partner. He spent much of the 1990s in Tehran. He was indicted in the US for the 1985 hijacking to Beirut of a TWA airliner in which a US navy diver was killed.
Western intelligence agencies have described Mughniyeh as head of the jihad council within Hizbullah's ruling shura council.
Israel saw him as the terrorist "mastermind" behind the planning for Hizbullah's July 2006 war with the Jewish state, which began with the audacious cross-border kidnapping of Israeli soldiers the organisation hoped to swap for Lebanese prisoners.
It was no surprise that Hizbullah blamed Israel's Mossad secret service for the killing, nor that the Syrian government, doubtless embarrassed by the attack in the heart of Damascus, remained silent.
If Israel was behind the assassination – and it has strongly rejected any involvement – it will be seen as a deliberate signal that it could target leaders of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, which has offices in the Syrian capital.
Another possibility is that the bombing was the work of agents linked to the pro-western Beirut government, which is at odds with the Shia organisation and its Syrian backers. The CIA has been pursuing Mughniyeh for years.
The killing electrified Beirut, already tense on the eve of Thursday's mass rally commemorating Rafiq al-Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister, whose assassination three years ago was widely blamed on Syria.
Israeli leaders were furious last month when Hizbullah's leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, made the macabre boast that the group was holding the body parts of several Israeli soldiers. Nasrallah has always claimed that Hizbullah won the 2006 war, taunting the Israelis at every opportunity.
"Israel had an account to settle with Mughniyeh," Eyal Zisser, an Israeli academic expert, told al-Jazeera TV. But he noted that the Lebanese fugitive was wanted by 42 other countries. Israel killed Nasrallah's predecessor, Abbas Musawi, in 1992.
Mughniyeh, aged around 46 and reportedly known to his followers as Haj Radwan, was rumoured to have had plastic surgery and to have been living underground in Beirut's southern suburbs, Hizbullah's stronghold.
Mughniyeh's brother was killed in a similar attack in Beirut in 1994, though reports at the time suggested Imad was the real target.
In this murky area hard facts are more difficult to come by than speculation and misinformation, but some reports have suggested Mughniyeh was in charge of Hizbullah's operations abroad, including attacks on Israeli and Jewish targets in Latin America in the 1990s.