Car bomb kills Imad Mugniyah, “The
Osama Bin Laden ‘exploded’ on the scene on September 11, 2001,
it was Mugniyah who was considered the most wanted ‘terrorist’
by the US. If Carlos was better known as “The Jackal,” Mugniyah
was referred to as “The Fox.” A reward of US$ 25 million was
announced for the head of “The Fox”
It was Tuesday, February 12. An explosion occurred shortly
after 10:30 pm in Tantheem Kafer Souseh, a suburban area of
Damascus in Syria. It was a prosperous neighbourhood with an
Iranian school and Police station in the vicinity.
A car parked near the Iranian school was the target of the
explosion. The black sports utility vehicle was blown up as a
bomb was detonated from underneath. The SUV was badly damaged in
“Like a shredded metal can,” according to Housham Nasaiseh, 19,
who worked in a sweets shop nearby and who arrived at the scene
a few minutes after the explosion. About ten to 15 other
vehicles were damaged.
The Police were removing a body from the vehicle when he
arrived, Nasaiseh told newspapers. Within an hour, the shattered
vehicle had been towed away. By morning the scene had been
cleared, and the only signs of the attack were a black mark on
the ground and scars on the sidewalk and nearby buildings.
Hailed as a hero
It was in the early hours of Wednesday, February 13 that the
identity of the man killed in the attack was known. It was Haji
Imad Fayez Mugniyah, a top commander of the Lebanon-Syria based
Hezbollah organisation. He was also linked to Iran’s
A television station run by Hezbollah, Al Manar, hailed Mugniyah
as a hero. “With pride and honour we announce that a great
Jihadi leader has joined the procession of martyrs in the
Islamic resistance,” said a statement read on the station. “The
martyr was killed at the hands of the Israeli Zionists.”
According to news reports, Israel officially distanced itself
from the killing and, without specifically naming Mugniyah, said
that it was looking into the attack in Syria.
But some former Israeli security officials did not hide their
satisfaction at Mugniyah’s assassination. Danny Yatom, a Labour
Party lawmaker and a former chief of the Mossad Intelligence
Agency, called Mugniyah’s death “a great achievement for the
free world in its fight on terror.”
In a statement, the office of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
said, “Israel rejects the attempt by terrorist elements to
ascribe to it any involvement whatsoever in this incident.”
Gideon Ezra, a minister from Israel’s governing Kadima Party and
a former deputy chief of the Shin Bet Internal Intelligence
Agency, told Israel Radio on Wednesday that many countries had
an interest in killing Mugniyah but that “Israel, too, was hurt
by him, more than other countries in recent years.”
Ezra said, “Of course I don’t know who killed him, but whoever
who did should be congratulated.”
Most wanted “terrorist”
There was satisfaction in Washington too. “The world is a
better place without this man in it,” said State Department
Spokesman, Sean McCormack.
There was reason for McCormack’s observation because until Osama
Bin Laden ‘exploded’ on the scene on September 11, 2001, it was
Mugniyah who was considered the most wanted ‘terrorist’ by the
If Carlos was better known as “The Jackal,” Mugniyah was
referred to as “The Fox.” A reward of US$ 25 million was
announced for the head of “The Fox.”
Several US and Canadian newspapers outlined the alleged offences
and crimes perpetrated by Mugniyah.
Mugniyah, who was also known as Hajj Rudwan, was one of the
world’s most wanted men. American prosecutors charged him in the
hijacking of the TWA jetliner in 1985, during which a United
States Navy Diver, Robert D. Stethem, was shot dead and dumped
onto the tarmac of Beirut’s airport.
He was also accused of arranging shipments of arms from Iran to
Palestinian groups. American officials say Mugniyah was behind
the 1983 bombing of the Marine compound in Beirut, in which 241
service members were killed. A car bomb at the American Embassy
there in the same year killed 63 people, including 17 Americans.
The United States also asserts that he was behind the torture
and killing of William Buckley, the CIA station chief in Beirut,
in 1984; the kidnapping and killing of Lt. Col. William R.
Higgins of the Marines, who was on peacekeeping duty in Lebanon
in 1988; and in his capacity as leader of the Islamic Jihad
Organisation, the seizure of a number of Western hostages in
Beirut during the 1980s.
Israel accused him of helping to plan the 1992 bombing of its
embassy in Buenos Aires, in which 29 people were killed, and the
1994 bombing of a Jewish centre in the city, in which 85 people
“A” team of international terrorists
The embassy bombing in Beirut was a particularly sharp blow
to the United States because a regional meeting of CIA
operatives was underway and crucial personnel were killed.
Media reports said that, although Mugniyah had not been accused
of planning new attacks in more than a decade, American
officials referred to him and his Hezbollah peers as the “A”
team of international terrorism because of their cold
professionalism and secrecy.
Widely believed to have undergone plastic surgery to avoid
detection, Mugniyah had not been seen in public for years and
was thought to have moved between Iran, Syria and Lebanon at
various times. Before 2001, he had been involved in more
terrorist attacks against Americans than any other person,
newspapers said in reference to US$ 25 million American bounty
on his head.
Who was “The Fox” and what was his background? What is his life
I draw extensively from a paper written by Carl Anthony Wege in
2006. It is titled “Iran’s terrorist asset: A history of Imad
Mugniyah.” Here are summarised extracts:
“During the last quarter century, it was Haji Imad Fayez
Mugniyah that helped to guide Hezbollah’s covert operations and
who served as an operative for Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. Born
in Tayr Dibbuth near Tyre in southern Lebanon on July 12, 1962,
he was the oldest of four siblings from the extended family of
Sheikh Muhammed Jawad Mugniyah, a prominent Lebanese cleric of
the Musawi clan.
During Imad’s childhood, his family moved to the Bir al-Abed
section of Beirut and he was barely a teenager of 13 years when
Lebanon’s civil war broke out in 1975. The crucible of the war
transformed Imad Mugniyah into an effective terrorist. He
apparently joined Fatah in 1975 (where he served until 1982) and
shortly thereafter was recruited by Fatah’s Force 17.
Entry into Hezbollah
Due to his young age, the opportunities in Force 17 were
necessarily limited but it was probably around this time that
Mugniyah had his initial exposure to bomb construction through
his later brother-in-law, Mustafa Badr al-Din. Mugniyah and his
brothers Faud Mugniyah and Jihad Mugniyah, all stayed behind
after the PLO evacuation of Beirut following the Israeli
invasion of 1982.
Thereafter, Shiite militants from Islamic Amal, Lebanon’s Daw’ah
and the Association of Muslim Ulema in Lebanon formed the
Hezbollah Organisation under the auspices of Iran’s
Shiite clans such as the Hamiya, Musawi, Aqeel, Shahadehs and
Ezzedeen facilitated the Guards’ incorporation into Lebanon’s
Islamist Movement. Imad Mugniyah’s familial relationship with
Shiekh Muhammad Jawad Mugniyah cemented his religious ties
within the Musawi clan and to the larger Shiite community.
This, combined with his experience in Fatah, facilitated his
entry into the new Hezbollah Organisation, where he was
responsible for the personal security of Hezbollah Spiritual
Leader Sheikh Fadlallah in Beirut. Mugniyah may have first
become acquainted with Fadlallah through hearing his sermons at
Beirut’s Bir al-Abed Mosque, located in the district of Beirut
where Mugniyah grew up.
In 1983, Imad Mugniyah married his cousin, Sa’ada Badr al-Din,
and had two children during that decade. The children were
Fatima Mugniyah, born in August 1984, and Mustafa Mugniyah, born
in January 1987. In September 1991, Mugniyah’s wife and children
were moved to Tehran for security reasons.
Mustafa Mugniyah, Imad’s son, is now coming to an age where
various intelligence services will have an interest in him, but
currently there is little concerning him in open literature.
Imad Mugniyah’s most important patrons were found in the al-Quds
Force, a special operations unit part of Iran’s Revolutionary
Guards, and various elements of Iran’s Intelligence organs. The
direct operational link between Mugniyah and the Revolutionary
Guards is likely through the Protection and Intelligence
Department supporting the al-Quds Headquarters facilitating
Mugniyah was involved in operational supervision of multiple
Hezbollah terrorist activities throughout the 1980s. In the
aftermath of the 1985 TWA 847 hijacking, he left the security of
Fadlallah to his brother Jihad Mugniyah and moved into the
Hezbollah Security Apparatus. It was this entity that initiated
the hostage taking and other operations under Hezbollah auspices
using the name Islamic Jihad (al-Jihad al-Islami) throughout the
Mugniyah was personally absent from Lebanon during the later
part of 1987 when he was in northern Iran. He went to Qum in
January 1988 and returned to Lebanon in 1990. Mugniyah became
progressively more distant from day-to-day Hezbollah operations
and more closely associated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.
The relationship between Imad Mugniyah and the Revolutionary
Guards was one of mutual exploitation. Mugniyah acted as a
Guards asset by filling an important niche in many operational
environments furthering Iranian foreign policy goals.
Conversely, Mugniyah had a great patron in the Guards with the
infrastructure and resources of a state to facilitate Mugniyah
as a notable in his own right both in Hezbollah and within the
Musawi clan. This enabled Mugniyah to create his own client and
patronage networks as a terrorist facilitating his operational
By the early 1990s, Iran’s foreign operations extended to Sudan
where Mugniyah was said to have been introduced to Osama bin
Laden in 1993. Throughout the 1990s, Mugniyah apparently worked
to establish Hezbollah support cells everywhere from North
Carolina to Latin America to Africa.
Mugniyah’s current age and value as an operational asset for the
Revolutionary Guards preclude his direct involvement in risky
operations. The kidnap operation against Israeli Defence Force
soldiers that ignited the recent Israeli-Lebanon war, for
example, was unlikely to have merited his participation. If he
was involved, his actual role would have likely been mentoring
the commanders who did carry out the operation.
With the dawn of the new century, Mugniyah acquired some
maturity as a terrorist archetype. His elevation to such
maturity is witnessed by his accompanying Iranian President
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Damascus to meet with Syria’s President
Bashar al-Assad earlier this year to discuss security issues for
Yet details and particulars about his personal life are scant,
and reports lacking public documentation concerning him are
plentiful. Although the passage of time may degrade Mugniyah’s
ability to directly engage in operations, his longevity has
created in him a sense of strategic vision.
Demonstrating Mugniyah’s operational maturity, Hamid Zakiri, a
defector from the Guards’ al-Quds Force, argued that Mugniyah
himself facilitated the escape of senior al-Qaeda personnel to
Iran after September 11.
This included some of Osama Bin Laden’s close family members.
Zakiri also alleged that Mugniyah took an active role in
organising Shiite resistance in southern Iraq.
The resiliency of Hezbollah in its conflict with Israel
shattered the strong confidence in Israeli arms and is becoming
a source for inspiration and tactical doctrine among Islamists.
The unexpected ability of Hezbollah to withstand a rather
concerted Israeli effort to rout the organisation and pacify
southern Lebanon was built in part by Imad Mugniyah.
According to media reports, Mugniyah had eluded capture because
other nations in the region showed little interest in joining
the hunt for him. For example, American officials discovered in
1995 that Mugniyah was on a commercial flight that was supposed
to stop in Saudi Arabia, but Saudi officials refused to allow
the plane to land, frustrating the attempt to arrest him.
In recent years, American officials sometimes received
information on his whereabouts in Beirut. But according to
several former American officials, the United States did not act
on such tips, apparently out of caution about conducting a
dangerous operation to capture Mugniyah in Beirut.
The CIA long considered Mugniyah’s organisation more dangerous
than al-Qaeda, largely because his group was backed by Iran,
even as al-Qaeda began to attack American targets in the late
Some reports said that American Intelligence officials believed
that Hezbollah and the Islamic Jihad Organisation, working with
the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, had a list of American
facilities around the world they were prepared to strike
whenever they received orders from Tehran.
But those attacks never materialised, and many American
officials became perplexed in recent years over whether Iran had
decided not to use terrorism as a weapon against the United
States, at least outside the war zone in Iraq. As a result, it
is unclear how big a threat Mugniyah posed, at least directly to
the United States.
Mugniyah, a Shiite allied with Iran, and Bin Laden, a Sunni from
Saudi Arabia, would not seem to have been natural allies, yet
there is evidence of contacts between them. They held at least
one meeting in the 1990s, possibly to discuss a terrorist
relationship, according to statements made in federal court by a
former close aide to Bin Laden.
Mugniyah’s funeral was held on Thursday, February 14.
Threat to Israel
Accusing Israel of killing one of his top commanders,
Hezbollah Leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah has threatened to
intensify his group’s conflict with Israel and to retaliate
against Israeli targets anywhere in the world, said media
Sheik Nasrallah, who has been in hiding since 2006 because of
Israeli assassination threats, spoke to thousands of mourners
via a televised image.
A band played the Hezbollah anthem, then the Lebanese national
anthem. After prayers, a letter from Iranian President Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad was read out by Tehran’s Foreign Minister Manouchehr
Mottaki. Then Nasrallah appeared on the screen, bringing the
audience to its feet. Many wept.
At crucial moments during the speech, audience members pumped
fists in the air and chanted “Labayka, Nasrallah!” — roughly,
“Nasrallah, we are ready to fulfil your commands.” Outside the
hall, loud bursts of celebratory machine-gun fire echoed in the
Nasrallah, during his belligerent speech, called the killing of
Mugniyah a “big mistake” that would be avenged. “The blood of
Imad Mugniyah will eliminate them,” he said, referring to the
According to analysts, if Hezbollah were to strike at Israel
outside the borders of the two countries, it would be a sharp
departure from the group’s current policy.
Ironically, the last time it did so was in the mid-1990s, when
Mugniyah was accused of planning bombings of Israeli targets in
Jeyaraj can be reached at email@example.com)