In the counter-terror fraternity, master terrorist Imad Mughniyeh‘s organization stands out not only for its ruthlessness, but for having created the most impenetrable enclave in the Islamist terror movement. His arcane organization has kept him safe for nearly three decades of brilliantly-planned, ambitious terrorist operations. Notorious for serial anti-American operations in Beirut in the 1970s, Mughniyeh has long starred on the FBI’s list of most wanted 22 terrorists along with Osama bin Laden, whom he predates – but with whom he often collaborates closely. As elusive as ever, he has nonetheless been named as one of the planners of the September 11 attacks on America.
But, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources, this dark corner of a sinister world has been breached at last. This was proved on July 19 by the murder in Beirut of one of his most trusted minions, Ghaleb Awali, head of the Hizballah’s Special Group and charged with working directly with Palestinian terrorist organizations.
Behind the public figure of Hassan Nasrallah and the more shadowy Imad Mughniyeh, Hizballah’s deadly work is carried out by a second tier of invisible operatives, whose identities may not be known even to fellow members.
Awali was one.
Born 41 years ago in the south Lebanese village of Tulin, he joined Nabih Berri’s Shiite Amal movement in the late 1970s as a teenager. That was the overt side of his career. On the quiet, he prepared his next step, joining Mustafa Dirani in the early 1980s in setting up a Shiite militia called “Believing Resistance.” Dirani was seized by Israelis in 1988 and held in the hope of securing the release of the navigator Ron Arad whom he captured and reportedly sold to Iran. After Dirani’s capture, Alawi and the entire militia joined the Hizballah. Very soon, Mughniyeh, spotted him as promising talent and attached him to his own staff with high officer rank.
One of Alawi’s most important assets was his rare fluency in Farsi. His new boss may have sent him on a language course. Between 1990 and 1996, he was attached to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards units stationed in E. Lebanon’s Baalbek and Beqaa Valley. In 1996, Mughniyeh promoted him to operations coordinator between the Hizballah and Palestinian terrorist organizations – a job that in practice made him the contact man between Tehran and the Palestinian leadership headed by Yasser Arafat.
Like all senior operatives of the secretive network, Awali was given a codename, “The Hajj.” His real name and photo were blanked out in all Hizballah publications.
Awali’s clandestine function exploded the myth that global Islamic terror and Palestinian terror are separate conflicts. Mughniyeh is the key link between Hizballah and Iran’s terror branch and al Qaeda’s leaders, maintaining regular, close ties with Osama bin Laden and Ayman Zuwahiri.
At the very same time that al Qaeda was setting up the attacks on the United States, Mughniyeh, on Iran’s behalf, engineered a campaign of terror against Israel and other parts of the Middle East through the Hizballah and the Palestinians.
The Lebanese Hizballah and Syrians recruited by him were the very first foreign elements to terrorize American forces in Iraq. After they lit the bonfire, Baathist guerrillas jumped in, followed later by former Iraqi military men.
Up until the late 1990s, Awali was engaged in setting up the logistical infrastructure for the Palestinian confrontation which erupted in September 2000, exactly one year before 9/11. He organized weapons supplies to the Palestinians and personally arranged arms shipments aboard three of the Iranian-Palestinian freighters captured by Israel between 2001 and 2003 – the Santorini, the Karen-A and the Abu Hassan.
With regard to Karin-A, documentary proof exists that the cargo was paid for in Greece by Iraq (during Saddam Hussein‘s rule) and Iran through a Greek shipper called Dimitris Kokkos and Pakistani Rifat Muhammed, owners of Nova Spirit Inc. registered in the Delaware, USA, the company that runs al Qaeda’s fleet (estimated today by intelligence experts at 35 freighters of various tonnage).
Nova Spirit operates secretly out of Iran’s Bandar Abbas base of the Revolutionary Guards and ports in Lebanon, Romania and Bulgaria.
Incontrovertible evidence therefore exists of collaborative relations for terror – at least in logistics – binding jihadist al Qaeda, fundamentalist Iran, Saddam Hussein’s secular Iraq, radical Shiite Hizballah and the suicidal, Israeli-hating Palestinian Authority.
Through 2003 and up until his death, “The Hajj” was in direct communication with a senior Fatah-Tanzim member of the Palestinian Legislative Council called Hussam Khader of the Nablus refugee camp of Balata. He now languishes in an Israeli jail since examination of his bank accounts in the West Bank and Jordan showed large infusions of cash from the “Lebanese businessman, G. Hajj.”
The money funded terrorist operations of the al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, the suicide arm of Arafat’s Fatah, and the Jihad Islami. Awali’s operational contact man in the Palestinian Jihad movement was Ziyad Nahla, who is based in Damascus, while his ties with the Hamas went through Ezz e-Din Sheik Haloul, another undercover terrorist operative who operates from the Syrian capital.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s reports that five days before his death, Awali returned home from another secret trip to Tehran to pick up new instructions and a large supply of funds for use in exploiting the chaos in the Palestinian Authority to plant more Iranian and Hizballah agents on the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
When he alighted from the plane in Beirut, Awali was picked up by a white Mercedes 280 and bodyguard. Like all of Mughniyeh’s men, he drove around Beirut in this popular Mercedes model whose number plates were switched every few days to throw off identification or pursuit. From the airport, he drove straight to the new apartment he bought in early April in the smart south Beirut suburb of Muadad.
That new apartment was the death of him.
All the top Shiite Hizballah people live in the same south Beirut district known as The Security Square, which is shut in behind a high wall and approached through roadblocks of concrete barriers against bomb cars manned by Hizballah gunmen armed to the teeth with machine guns. Hizballah mobile units patrol every street and each house has its own guard at the entrance.
The apartment purchased by “The Hajj” is located in a new building at the edge of the Muadad. Three sides project into the Security Square, while the northern wall is exposed to normal city traffic – which is where is killers waited for him.
Our counter-terror sources have no doubt that he had long been subjected to surveillance. The watchers had seen him move house, travel to Tehran and tracked his Mercedes upon his return His killers therefore knew exactly when and where to rig the bomb that blew him up.
Nasrallah and Mughniyeh were badly shaken by the precise timing and method of Alawi’s assassination because it meant that their innermost core had been subjected to hostile penetration. This had never happened before – even in the 1980s during Mughniyeh’s reign of terror and abduction against Westerners which eventually drove the Americans out of Beirut.
Hizballah leaders are shy of saying out loud that “The Hajj” was the fourth of their number to be targeted for liquidation by a similar method in the last two years.
In public, Nasrallah accused the Israeli Mossad and vowed to exact revenge.
His threat has put Israel’s security services in and outside the country on supreme alert ready for a Hizballah strike against an Israeli or Jewish target. This week was the tenth anniversary of the devastating attack on the Jewish Community Center of Buenos Aires, which claimed 82 lives and injured 230. That attack was Hizballah’s revenge for the death of one of its leaders Abbas Mussawi.