The FBI has this to say against the name: Imad Mughniyeh, explaining what he has done to earn a place on its list of the 22 most-wanted terror suspects in the world:
CONSPIRACY TO COMMIT AIRCRAFT PIRACY, TO COMMIT HOSTAGE TAKING, TO COMMIT AIR PIRACY RESULTING IN MURDER, TO INTERFERE WITH A FLIGHT CREW, TO PLACE A DESTRUCTIVE DEVICE ABOARD AN AIRCRAFT, TO HAVE EXPLOSIVE DEVICES ABOUT THE PERSON ON AN AIRCRAFT, AND TO ASSAULT PASSENGERS AND CREW; AIR PIRACY RESULTING IN MURDER; AIR PIRACY; HOSTAGE TAKING; INTERFERENCE WITH FLIGHT CREW; AND PLACING EXPLOSIVES ABOARD AIRCRAFT; PLACING DESTRUCTIVE DEVICE ABOARD AIRCRAFT; ASSAULT ABOARD AIRCRAFT WITH INTENT TO HIJACK WITH A DANGEROUS WEAPON AND RESULTING IN SERIOUS BODILY INJURY; AIDING AND ABETTING
No part of that job description is disputed – only a single sentence: “The alleged head of the security apparatus for the terrorist organization, Lebanese Hizballah…is thought to be in Lebanon.”
Wrong – or, rather, out of date.
In early December, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s counter-terrorism sources report the master-terrorist arrived in southern Iraq, accompanied by a small, loyal party, all members of Hizballah’s security apparatus in Lebanon. He carried several million dollars to grease the palms of potential recruits that a Hizballah advance team had lined up for his terror network in southern Iraq.
Our sources believe the network is already up and running.
It has been shaped by Mughniyeh into a logistical infrastructure to provide such means of support as shelter, food, water and transport, for operatives moving around southern Iraq. If President George W. Bush and US military commanders in Iraq expected Saddam Hussein’s capture on December 13 to lead to a decline in Baathist terrorist activity, they were sorely mistaken. The network Mughniyeh has created is far more dangerous and adept in terrorist tactics that the former Baath party loyalists.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s counter-terrorism sources report that new intelligence reaching Washington recently reveals just what Mughniyeh has in store for US troops in Iraq. For late March or early April, he is preparing a chain of mega-attacks to hit the US civil administration and military infrastructure, Iraqis cooperating with US occupation authorities and economic and strategic Iraqi targets such as oil fields. He intends to cause mayhem and mass US and Iraqi casualties on a scale that would backfire powerfully enough to destroy President George W. Bush’s chances of reelection as president next November.
Attacks on Gulf targets are mentioned in the same intelligence update.
Back in the 1980s, Mughniyeh masterminded the horrific suicide attacks in Lebanon that killed hundreds of Americans and caused the Reagan administration to withdraw the US army from the country. (More below in Profile of a Master Terrorist)
He is confident he can mete out the same punishment to Bush and rob him of a second term.
This may not be an idle boast considering how long he has been at large although figuring on Washington’s wish list for decades. Unlike Saddam Hussein and his late sons Uday and Qusay, he has managed to stay out of harm’s way.
Our intelligence and counter-intelligence sources have long kept track of this extremely dangerous terrorist mastermind. He was placed under tight surveillance five months ago when US and Middle East intelligence agents finally ran him to ground. They were astonished to find how much his appearance had changed. Only 41, he had lost his youthful look and athletic build. Plastic surgery made him look like an old man. He had put on a great deal of weight and appeared to spend most of his time alone watching television and eating, rarely receiving visitors or even talking on the telephone.
Speaking to DEBKA-Net-Weekly, a high-ranking Middle East intelligence official likened Mughniyeh’s situation then to house arrest, with his “captors” – Syria and Hizballah – waiting for the right opportunity to turn him in.
“Mughniyeh knows his situation fragile and is taking precautions. I would not be surprised if one fine day we found he had bolted the trap.”
No hand was laid upon him at that time because Washington was engaging Syrian president Bashar Assad in the hope of an understanding to convert Hizballah from a terrorist group to a political party. US diplomacy refused to contemplate the possibility that their overtures would lead nowhere and Hizballah would prove to be beyond hope for the following reasons:
The Shiite terrorists depend ideologically and financially on Iran.
Hizballah runs a superlative intelligence service with a broad worldwide sweep, whose match would be hard to find even among secret services in the West.
Mughniyeh still occupied a high-ranking position in the Hizballah as its deputy secretary general, to Hassan Nasrallah.
Notwithstanding his official standing in the Lebanese Shiite terrorist organization, his precise loyalties have never been satisfactorily determined by any intelligence or counter-terror agencies. He may be seen as the uncrowned chief, teacher and guru of Hizballah’s first-rate intelligence and terror apparatus and its point of contact with Iranian and al Qaeda intelligence bodies.
Those intelligence connections lend him exceptional power and influence in the murky and violent world of intelligence and Islamic fundamentalist terror.
In early September, our counter-terrorism sources report Mughniyeh vanished from his quarters giving his watchers the slip. Rumor had it that he was back in Tehran and orchestrating terrorist attacks on behalf of al Qaeda. Wherever he may have been in the interim, by October he was back in Lebanon. Israeli intelligence spotters in the northern Galilee sighted him in the company of senior Iranian Revolutionary Guards officers surveying northern Israel across the border from southern Lebanon.
Intelligence experts were convinced that Iran and Hizballah were plotting a major strike or even mega-attack inside Israel under the terrorist mastermind’s supervision. It transpires that Mughniyeh deliberately materialized for the benefit of Israeli binoculars to mask the plan up his sleeve which was to set up his next operations base in Iraq.
There is no clue as to how he was allowed to sneak out of Lebanon or whether he reached Iraq through Syria. Other enigmas are: Who supplied him with the manpower and money for his network in Iraq? Was it Syria, Iran or both? Was al Qaeda involved? Did Mughniyeh offer his sponsors a surrogate terrorist service that would leave them in the clear?
From long study of the arch terrorist’s record as outlined below, it may be deduced that Mughniyeh is not afraid of taking on an American president. He has done it before. His experience in thumbing his nose at the White House dates back to the Iran-Contra affair when Ronald Reagan was in office. He next conspired against George Bush senior in the 1993 Somalia debacle and undermined Bill Clinton’s Middle East peace efforts by tightening the links between the Palestinians and Hizballah. George W. Bush presents him with yet another challenge.
Imad Mughniyeh has well earned his place on the FBI’s 22 most wanted terrorist list.
He is a rare combination of Palestinian and Shiite Moslem, the member of a family hailing from Galilee and moving some time in the 1940s to the Lebanese Shiite village of Tair Debbah near Tyre. Mughniyeh’s grandfather was a Shia mullah.
As both Palestinian and Shiite, he gained instant popular acceptance among the Shiites of Lebanon and Iran, while his special blend of Palestinian nationalism and Shiite extremism gave him a foot in both Palestinian and Lebanese Shiite intelligence and security organizations in Lebanon.
Photo: Only known depiction of 1983 Marine HQ bomb blast in Beirut
Mughniyeh soon evinced a natural aptitude for dreaming up the single intelligence stroke that descends on a complex political situation with the destructive effect of a thunderbolt. No one outside his band of five brothers has ever penetrated the Mughniyeh cell’s hard core; his whereabouts or even the identity he is using at any given moment is known to no one.
A man of many faces, he is believed to effect frequent changes of appearance by disguise or surgery.
His devotion to his family is solid, as is his dedication to the pan-Islamic jihad against infidels. Over the years, Mughniyeh has established working connections with the leading terrorist networks of the Arab and Islamic world, Hizballah, the Iranian regime, Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. His first important experience of the world of terror was as a member of Yasser Arafat’s personal bodyguard, the Force 17 unit, in Beirut. He left Arafat’s service in 1982 and has detested him ever since. Arafat is just as wary of Mughniyeh.
The next six years, the Palestinian Shiite applied the lessons he had learned from Arafat to his terrorist campaign against Westerners in Beirut. According to DEBKAfile‘s terror experts, Mughniyeh was behind the most shocking abductions in the Lebanese capital between 1982 and 1988. Among his victims were the AP correspondent Terry Adams, the British Anglican envoy Terry Waite and Thomas Sutherland, Dean of the American University of Beirut. He often held his captives in the cellars of mosques in the Shiite suburbs of South Beirut and later in villages around Baalbek in East Lebanon. It was he who planned and carried out the kidnapping of two senior CIA officers in Lebanon, William Buckley and William Higgins, turning them over to the Iranians who murdered them.
He also orchestrated the 1983 Beirut bombings of the US Marine compound that killed 241 troops in all, of the US embassy in which 63 Americans died, including the 29 top ranking agents of the CIA’s Middle East-Persian Gulf department, and the French military compound, causing more than 100 deaths. Mughniyeh is also tied to the January 24, 1987, kidnapping of American Professor Robert Polhill in Beirut.
In April 1988, the master terrorist staged the hijack of a Kuwaiti Airlines plane to extort the release of his kinsman (cousin or brother-in-law), Mustafa Fouad Saad, who was under sentence of death for terrorist activities in Kuwait. The Kuwaiti authorities gave in.
For eight long years, the finest of the Western world’s intelligence agencies, the CIA, the British MI6, the US anti-narcotics DEA, the French SDECE, Israel Army Intelligence-Aman and the Mossad, searched high and low for the master terrorist and his captives – to no avail. The only agency with a general geographical picture of those hideouts was Israeli Army Intelligence, but even they knew nothing specific.
After the hostage crisis had passed, Western law and order agencies continued to hunt Mughniyeh, but he always stayed a step ahead of capture
Mughniyeh owes his incredible success and Houdini-like ability to drop out of sight to more than one factor. But most of all to the fact that his hostage-taking crimes were never carried out for personal gain or ransom. He was motivated by the sheer determination to provide Ayatollah Khomeini with a politically loaded weapon of warfare to humiliate the United States more than it has ever been before. So disturbingly did his atrocities affect America’s political psyche, that Khomeini was able to play Mughniyeh’s hostage card for two years, 1985-1987, and force the Americans, with Israel’s help, to clandestinely sell his revolutionary regime illegal arms. The affair surfaced as the Irangate scandal and almost brought down the Reagan administration.
Mughniyeh’s contribution to international terror continued throughout the 1990s.
He was behind the two Buenos Aires bombings, one at the Israeli Embassy in 1992 and the other at the Jewish Community Center in 1994.
On June 25, 1996, a truck bomb devastated the Khobar Towers living quarters of US forces and their families in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The blast killed 19 US servicemen and left 500 injured.
The Khobar Towers bombing was a key turning point in anti-American terrorism; it was the first large-scale attack initiated by a fledgling coalition bringing al Qaeda, the Hizballah and the Egyptian Islamic Jihad together.
Saudi intelligence eventually got to the bottom of who ordered this attack: Iran – or rather Iran’s spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. But that was not all they discovered; the bombers were Saudi al Qaeda adherents, whom the Iranian hard-line leadership controlled through two of Khamenei’s top intelligence-cum-terror aides: Imad Mughniyeh and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Brigadier General Ahmed Sharifi.
During 1996, 1997 and 1998, intelligence operations in the Middle East and United States built up the picture of a burgeoning relationship between the Lebanese terrorist and the young Saudi Islamic firebrand Osama Bin Laden. That collaboration deepened from March 1997. Mughniyeh’s hand is detected in setting up al Qaeda’s 1998 US embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam.
Mughniyeh’s ties with the Iranian government have yielded him an abundance of terror resources and broad scope. He has served as the special advisor on terror and intelligence to Ayatollah Khamanei and follows orders of the Revolutionary Guards intelligence organs. He reportedly moves freely between Iran, Lebanon and Syria, convenient for one of his regular missions, which has been to keep terrorism alive against Israeli military and civilian targets since Israel’s May 2000 withdrawal from southern Lebanon.