His rap sheet, which includes the 1983 Marine barracks bombing and the 1985 TWA hijacking, speaks for itself. So legendary a figure is he that the CIA was worried last year about him organizing a Shiite jihadi offensive against U.S. troops in Iraq in case we bombed Iran. Newsweek’s Iranian source laughed that off by claiming he was old news and hadn’t been involved in any major Hezbollah operations in a decade, which is plausible given the CIA’s level of competence but not so plausible given Mossad’s, which also wanted him dead.
The site of the bombing: Damascus. Did the Israelis finally get him or did he outlive his usefulness to Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah? Stand by for updates.
Update: The problem with weighing a fish this big and mysterious is that you can plausibly link him to anything. He’s been pulling off major operations and avoiding the world’s best intelligence services for years. The JPost article names him as Hezbollah’s number two, and why not? Another JPost article says he co-founded the group and ties him to Al Qaeda:
He also apparently had strong ties with Al Qaida and according to the testimony of Ali Mohammed, a senior Al Qaida operative who was arrested for involvement in the attacks on American embassies in Africa, Mughniyeh met with Bin Laden in Sudan in 1993. Hizbullah, Mohammed said, provided explosives training for Al-Qaida fighters. This relationship and the fact that Mughniyeh was Hizbullah’s liaison to Al Qaida, has led western intelligence agencies to raise the possibility that he was also involved in the 9/11 attacks.
Reminds me of Khaled Sheikh Mohammed’s Gitmo confession, where he confessed to everything under the sun. How do you tell true from false about a guy who has been involved in almost everything under the sun?
Update: More from that JPost piece. Big fish: “In January 2006, Mughniyeh is believed to have traveled with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Damascus for a meeting with Nasrallah, Hamas leader Khaled Mashal and Islamic Jihad chief Ramadan Salah.”
Update: Former Mossad chief Danny Yatom celebrates:
Yatom called Mughniyah’s death a serious blow to Hezbollah, both in terms of morale and in terms of its operational capabilities, saying the assassination could only have been made possible by penetrating deep into the organization.
“Whoever can take him out can take out anyone in Hezbollah,” he said. “It will take Hezbollah a long time to find an heir.”
Update: Former CIA agent Robert Baer calls him the most capable operative chased by the agency during his time there, KGB included.
Update: For what little it’s worth, Debka says Mughniyeh was the liaison between Bin Laden and, er, Ayatollah Khamenei. And here’s the inside job theory:
While America and Israel come first to mind as responsible for Mughniyeh’s death, DEBKAfile’s counter-terror sources note that a possible inside job is worth considering. Dissatisfied with his performance in the 2006 Lebanon War against Israel, Tehran deposed Hizballah’s secretary-general Hassan Nasralah as its supreme commander and replaced him with Mughniyeh.
Nasrallah was confined to political functions, while his successor was assigned the task of rehabilitating Hizballah militia forces and preparing them for the next war on Israel.
The dead terrorist may have set up his headquarters in Damascus under the protection of Syrian and Iranian security services because he did not feel safe in Lebanon. Penetrating these two security belts to slay the wanted man was undoubtedly an exceptional intelligence feat.
Update: Asharq al-Awsat is a Saudi paper so sprinkle any salt left over from the Debka piece on this. But if Mughniyeh was as operationally important as he appears to have been and if Iran is in fact using Hezbollah to train the Mahdi Army or its, ahem, “rogue members,” then needless to say this helps us out in Iraq, too.
In 2005, he was tasked with organizing relations between the different Shiaa armed factions in southern Iraq. Mughniyeh then became the field supervisor of the revolutionary guard’s intelligence bureau in the region. That same year, he traveled to Lebanon through Syria, accompanied by Iranian officials, under the name of Sayyid Mehdi Hashemi, an Iranian national with a diplomatic passport.
In early 2006, reports indicated Mughniyeh had been seen in the city of Basra, where he is alleged to have been facilitating the entry of Mehdi army fighters into Iran, to take part in military training. In April, Mughniyeh was said to have returned to Lebanon where he held senior positions in Hezbollah’s intelligence services and, according to Israeli sources, planned the operation to kidnap Israeli soldiers, based on orders from Iran’s revolutionary guards.
Follow the link for plenty more on his alleged Bin Laden connection.
Update: Rusty e-mails with a reminder that former Lebanese PM Rafiq Hariri was killed by a car bomb three years ago tomorrow, making this a possible act of revenge. Could anti-Syrian elements pull off a hit this big, though? Everyone suspects Mossad mainly because they’re possibly the only ones with the skills and balls to do it.
Update: If not a friend of Osama, an inspiration:
Mughniyeh was not suspected of involvement in 9/11, but he was a role model for bin Laden, who used the 1983 Marine barracks bombing as a standard, CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen said.
“Because if you think about the attack, pretty much immediately afterward President Reagan ordered the United States out of Lebanon, and so that’s the model bin Laden wanted to implement everywhere — attack the United States in places like Yemen or in Kenya, or in Tanzania, or even the United States itself, and it will pull out of the Middle East,” Bergen said.
Update: Ynet has a photo of what was left of the car.
Update: Two nice catches by Roggio: The method here matches the Israeli method in taking out a Hamas operative in 2004, and the links between Hezbollah and AQ aren’t quite as tenuous as I suggested. They were mentioned in the 9/11 Commission Report, in fact.