Hezbollah’s most wanted commander killed in Syria bomb
BEIRUT – Hezbollah leader Imad Moughniyah, on the United States’ most wanted list for attacks on Israeli and Western targets, was killed by a bomb in Damascus, the Lebanese group said on Wednesday.
Hezbollah swiftly accused Israel of assassinating Moughniyah, who was head of the Hezbollah security network during Lebanon’s 1975-90 civil war. In Gaza, Hamas Islamists called for the Arab world to unite against Israel.
Israel denied any involvement in the killing, seen as a blow to Syrian-backed Hezbollah that fought a 34-day war with Israel in 2006.
Moughniyah, 45, was killed late on Tuesday by a bomb planted in his car. He had long been on a list of foreigners Israel wanted to kill or apprehend and the United States had offered a reward for his capture.
He was implicated in the 1983 bombings of the U.S. embassy and U.S. Marine and French peacekeeping barracks in Beirut, which killed over 350 people, as well as the 1992 bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires and the kidnapping of Westerners in Lebanon in the 1980s.
The United States indicted him for his role in planning and participating in the June 14, 1985, hijacking of a U.S. TWA airliner and the killing of an American passenger.
Hezbollah, a group backed by Syria and Iran, announced the assassination and called followers to his funeral on Thursday.
“After a life full of jihad, sacrifices and accomplishments … Haj Imad Moughniyah … died a martyr at the hands of the Israeli Zionists,” said Hezbollah, which fought a 34-day war in 2006 with the Jewish state.
The war was triggered by a Hezbollah cross-border raid in which two Israeli soldiers were captured. According to Israeli intelligence assessments, Moughniyah was involved in masterminding the operation.
Israel also accuses Moughniyah of planning the 1994 bombing of a Jewish centre in Buenos Aires that killed 87 people and of involvement in a 1992 bombing of the Israeli embassy in the Argentinian capital that killed 28.
“He was not only being targeted by Israel, but also by the Americans and many other parties,” said former Mossad head Danny Yatom on Israel Radio. “He was one of the terrorists with the most amount of intelligence agencies and states chasing him.”
Moughniyah had been a very tough target to track, he said, describing his death as a severe blow to Hezbollah.
“He behaved with extreme caution for many years. It was impossible even to obtain his picture. He never appeared or spoke before the media.
“His identity was hidden. His steps were hidden. He behaved with extreme caution, and that was the reason it was difficult to get to him for so many years.”
Moughniyah was thought to be the commander of Islamic Jihad, a shadowy pro-Iranian group which emerged in Lebanon in the early 1980s and was believed linked to Hezbollah.
Islamic Jihad kidnapped several Western hostages, including Americans, in Beirut in the mid 1980s.
The group killed some of its captives and exchanged others for U.S. weapons to Iran in what was later known as the Iran-Contra scandal. Among those killed was the CIA’s station chief.
“Israel rejects the attempts of terror elements to attribute to Israel any involvement in this incident,” Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s office said in a statement.
Israel rarely confirms or denies its involvement in assassinations abroad. In 1992, its helicopters killed Sayyed Abbas Moussawi, who preceded Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah as Hezbollah’s leader.
Moughniyah’s brother was killed in a car bomb in Beirut in 1994. Reports at the time suggested Imad had been the target. Moughniyah had spent much of the 1990s in Iran making, only few visits to Beirut.