Conscious of the damage caused by the discovery that one of the world’s most notorious terrorists was at home in Damascus, official Syrian sources tried planting a story that Imad Mughniyeh was using a false passport in the name of Redwan when he was murdered Tuesday, Feb. 12, in the posh Kafar Soussa neighborhood of the capital.
The story, run in the London-based story in the London-based Arabic media Thursday, Feb. 14, claimed that, not only were the Syrian authorities ignorant of his presence, but they found it hard to identify him.
This tale was designed for the dual purpose of shrugging off knowledge of his presence while insinuating that had Syrian security known he was there, he would have been looked after and alive to this day.
Except that the Iranians spoiled Syria’s game.
According to Tehran’s version, Mughniyeh arrived in Damascus from the Iranian capital on Jan. 19, 25 days before his death. During that time, he was busy holding meetings with the Hamas politburo chief Khaled Meshaal on their joint operation for setting up the Hamas rampage against Egypt and Israel in the Gaza Strip. No one would believe that Syrian security and intelligence authorities, noted for keeping a close eye on every moving object in Damascus, missed the movements of the Lebanese master terrorist and were unaware of the pair’s schemes.
Whatever the Syrian officials may claim in their defense, the fact that the Tehran’s terror tactician was assassinated under their nose has exposed a glaring breach in their intelligence and security services. The breach in this bulwark of the regime endangers Bashar Assad‘s hold on power. It is also a blot on his relations with Tehran.
He therefore quickly followed Iran in appointing a military panel to investigate how the assassination was engineered, headed by acting interior minister Gen. Bassam Abdul Majid. It will have to come up with some fast answers for the Iranian delegation, which arrived in Damascus Wednesday for an exhaustive probe into the loss of one of the Islamic Republic’s most valuable strategic assets.
Death trap in the most heavily-secured part of Damascus
The Lebanese terror ace believed he was safe staying in the Kafar Soussa neighborhood because it is so well guarded. On the opposite side of the street, 300 meters away, the editorial office of the government-controlled Al Thawra newspaper is located in a protected building on whose roof sharpshooters are perched.
The Rifai Mosque is located further down the street, attached to the Iranian school which is attended by the children of Iranian diplomats and military men serving in the Syrian capital. Both buildings are under heavy guard.
Mughniyeh’s own residence had security officers posted around it night and day. His car, a Mitsubishi Pajero, in which the assassin’s bomb was planted, was kept in a garage attached to the house and inspected now and again by the guards.
All the same, someone entered the car and planted the explosive device. It was detonated by remote control after Mughniyeh drove off and had reached a point between the Al Thawra offices and the Rifai mosque. The assassins, or one of them, must have stayed on the street to activate the detonator when he could see the target sitting in the driving seat.
The shape of the plot shows that a hostile group of people was able to move about freely in one of the high-end neighborhoods of Damascus among the palatial homes of Syria’s top political, military and business leaders.
Syrian intelligence displayed a similar failing six months ago, when Israeli raiders accessed secret military-nuclear sites undetected and made off undisturbed with a haul of nuclear apparatus, which was transferred to Israel and later the United States.
A few days before Mughniyeh was killed, debkafile exposed another episode which showed up the mess in Syria’s intelligence services.
On Feb. 9, Syrian Defense minister Gen. Hassan Turkemani told army officers to beware because, “The Mossad has been able to penetrate the officer elite with gifts of satellite tetephones linked to Israeli spy satellites.”
Approaching Hariri tribunal strips Assad regime of loyalists
On Feb. 1 DEBKA-Net-Weekly 335 dislcosed that Gen. Labid Salame, head of Syria’s eavesdropping agency, Unit 225, had been detained on suspicion of monitoring and collecting material on the top secret exchanges between the head of Syrian military intelligence Gen. Assaf Shawqat and high-ranking Iranian intelligence and army officers and passing it on to anti-Iranian elements buried in the Syrian army.
The slaying of the high-powered Hizballah commander in the heart of the Syrian capital confirms that key sections of its security apparatus are seriously dysfunctional.
Part of their trouble, our intelligence sources report, is the panic that has seized the powers-that-be in Damascus over the approaching opening of the international tribunal for trying the plotters of the assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafiq Hariri three years ago in Beirut.
Thursday, thousands turned out in the Lebanese capital to remember Hariri in a show of strength by anti-Syrian Lebanese government factions. Unbridled hate rhetoric for Syria and Hizballah was heard from every speaker at the event. None condemned the killing of Mughniyeh.
This week, UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon issued this statement:
…the selection of the judges, the appointment of the prosecutor, the finalization of a headquarters agreement with the government of the Netherlands for the tribunal to be based in that country… are decisive landmarks in the process of making the Special Tribunal a reality
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources point out that no Syrian intelligence officer feels he is safe from being thrown to the wolves of the tribunal to take the heat off the Assad clan, who are the chief suspects in the Hariri assassination conspiracy. Furthermore, every Syrian intelligence officer has noted that the Assads have proved powerless to arrest the wheels of justice. Therefore, the members of Syria’s undercover agencies are primarily preoccupied with saving their own skins rather than protecting their shaky rulers and their allies.
There could be no more opportune time for a foreign intelligence agency to get away with a hit in the Syrian capital.