Likely Mastermind Of Tower Attacks

By: Kenneth R. Timmerman

Insight Magazine - 12/1001

Insight on the News - World

Issue date: 12/31/01

 

He has blown up U.S. embassies and car-bombed a U.S. military barracks. He

has hijacked U.S. commercial airliners and murdered Americans. He has

kidnapped and tortured a top CIA officer and vowed through terror to drive the

United States from his country. Do you know who he is?

 

If you guessed Osama bin Laden, you're wrong. The correct answer is Imad

Fayez Mugniyeh (pronounced MOOG-NEE-YEH), a Lebanese Shiite long

considered one of the world's most ruthless and elusive killers. The CIA has

been tracking him since 1984 when he masterminded the kidnapping in Beirut

of CIA station chief William Buckley, apparently on orders from Iran. Now

evidence is beginning to mount that Mugniyeh has deep ties to bin Laden and

his al-Qaeda network and may have been directly involved in planning the

Sept. 11 attacks.

 

"We know Mugniyeh has a relationship to bin Laden. We know that," one U.S.

official tells Insight. "Did he have a role in planning the outrages of September

11? We can't rule it out. Hezbollah is part of bin Laden's International Islamic

Front for Jihad on the Jews and Crusaders, and Mugniyeh is the head of

Hezbollah's special-operations branch."

 

Twice the United States spotted Mugniyeh on international flights and sought

to have him arrested. In 1986, he was leaving Charles de Gaulle Airport after

several days of secret negotiations with the French government. Although the

CIA provided a copy of the passport he was using, the French declined to stop

him. Nine years later, he was flying back to Beirut from Khartoum after a

meeting with bin Laden in the Sudan. The United States arranged for his

Middle East Airways plane to make an unscheduled stopover in Jedda, Saudi

Arabia, but the Saudi authorities refused to force him to leave the plane.

Neither the French nor the Saudis wanted him on their hands.

 

"Imad Mugniyeh is one of the most demonic of the militant Islamic leaders,"

says Daniel Pipes of the Middle East Forum in Philadelphia. "He appears to

serve as a bridge between the 1980s, when the violence was primarily Shiite,

and today, when it is primarily Sunni."

 

Mugniyeh and his Iranian backers are Shiite Muslims; bin Laden and his

followers are Sunnis. Most terrorism analysts and Islamic scholars insist that

the two Muslim sects are on less-friendly terms than Catholics and Protestants

in Belfast. But when it comes to terrorism, they are dead wrong.

 

The eldest of four children, Mugniyeh was born in the village of Tir Dibba in the

mountains above the Lebanese coastal city of Tyre on July 12, 1962. His

father, Sheik Muhammad Jawad Mugniyeh, was praised as "one of Shia

Lebanon's best jurists" by American Islamic scholar Fouad Ajami.

 

As a high-school dropout, Mugniyeh was recruited by Yasser Arafat's Fatah

faction and later joined the elite Force 17, Arafat's personal security service.

Once the Palestinians were kicked out of Lebanon in 1983, Mugniyeh and his

two brothers, Fuad and Jihad, joined a new organization set up by Iran called

Hezbollah (Party of God). Its goal was to drive the Western powers out of

Lebanon.

 

Imad Mugniyeh became Hezbollah's star recruit, reporting directly to Ali Akbar

Mohtashemi-Pour, Iran's ambassador to Syria. His terrorist pedigree began

with a bang when he organized the April 18, 1983, bombing of the U.S.

Embassy in Beirut that killed 63 people, including Robert Ames, the CIA's top

Middle East operations officer, and many of his best agents.

 

In October 1983, Mugniyeh was back at work. This time, with Iranian and

Syrian help, he plotted the twin suicide truck-bomb attacks in Beirut that took

the lives of 242 U.S. Marines and 58 French troops.

 

For many years Mugniyeh's personal involvement in those early bombings

remained obscure. It wasn't until he kidnapped the new CIA station chief to

Beirut, William Buckley, in April 1984 that the U.S. intelligence community

began to get a fix on him.

 

David Jacobsen was one of a dozen Americans and Frenchmen kidnapped in

Beirut in the 1980s by Mugniyeh and his pro-Iranian militiamen. At one point

he shared a cell with Buckley at an undisclosed location and remembers his

ordeal well. "I was chained to the floor; I was blindfolded. The person at my

feet, I later learned, was Terry Anderson, and the person at the head was Bill

Buckley."

 

Mugniyeh's guards tried to keep them from speaking to one another. "One of

the chilling moments for me and for Terry Anderson was to hear Bill Buckley

cough," says Jacobsen. "He was very, very sick. He was delirious. I heard him

say, 'I don't know what happened to my body; it was so strong 30 days ago.'"

 

The CIA now believes that Buckley was tortured to death by Mugniyeh

personally, who extracted whatever secrets he could and then murdered him.

Buckley was honored by CIA director William H. Webster at a posthumous

ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery on May 13, 1988, and a star in his

honor was carved into the wall of CIA headquarters &emdash; the 51st.

 

Mugniyeh burst onto the international scene with the brash June 1985 hijacking

of TWA Flight 847 from Greece to Beirut, where he held 39 Americans hostage

for 17 days. Wearing a ski mask, Mugniyeh prowled the aisles of the aircraft

looking for U.S. military personnel and discovered U.S. Navy diver Robert

Stethem. He tortured and shot Stethem, then dumped his body out on the

runway in full view of international TV cameras. Later, the FBI was able to

identify Mugniyeh's fingerprints in the rear lavatory of the aircraft and indicted

him for Stethem's murder.

 

Mugniyeh also murdered for personal reasons, including the release of a

family member. The man who initiated him in the art of bomb-making was his

brother-in-law, Mustapha Badr-el-Din, whose crippled legs prevented him from

joining a Beirut militia. Badr-el-Din plied his trade by designing the bombs

used in a series of devastating attacks against Kuwait. He was arrested and

sentenced to death for his crimes by the Kuwaiti government.

 

In April 1988, Mugniyeh orchestrated the hijacking of a Kuwait Airlines flight to

Bangkok. On board were three members of the Kuwaiti royal family. In

exchange for their freedom, Mugniyeh demanded the release of his

brother-in-law and 16 other Shiite prisoners in Kuwait, known collectively as the

"Ad-Dawaa 17."

 

The plane made a three-day stopover in the eastern Iranian city of Mashad,

where some sources believe Mugniyeh personally boarded the aircraft and

brought on additional hijackers and weapons. Next, they flew to Cyprus, where

two Kuwaiti passengers were murdered and dumped onto the runway in a

stunning replay of the TWA hijacking three years earlier. They ended up in

Algiers, where negotiators from the Iranian and Algerian governments, as well

as Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization, arranged safe passage

for all the hijackers.

 

Intelligence officials believe Mugniyeh is seeking personal vengeance on the

United States and Israel for the deaths of his brothers, which explains in part

his willingness to lend his expertise to operations organized by other groups.

Mugniyeh's brothers were killed in retaliatory attacks in Lebanon believed to

have been carried out by Israeli and U.S. operatives.

 

"Bin Laden is a schoolboy in comparison with Mugniyeh," an Israeli-intelligence

officer told Jane's Foreign Report recently. "The guy is a genius, someone who

refined the art of terrorism to its utmost level. We studied him and reached

the conclusion that he is a clinical psychopath motivated by uncontrollable

psychological reasons, which we have given up trying to understand. The killing

of his two brothers by the Americans only inflamed his strong motivation."

 

His brother, Jihad Mugniyeh, died in 1985 when a car bomb intended for

Hezbollah leader Sheik Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah killed 75 people outside

Fadlallah's home in Beirut. Hezbollah blamed the CIA for the attack. His other

brother, Fuad Mugniyeh, died in December 1994 when another car bomb

exploded near the mosque where Fadlallah preached his weekly sermon,

directly outside of a shop owned by Fuad. The car-bomb attack reportedly was

ordered by Israel in reprisal for the bombing of the Jewish Community Center

in Buenos Aires earlier that year which killed 86.

 

In the 1990s Mugniyeh shifted focus from Lebanon and the Persian Gulf to

launch a series of dramatic international operations. On March 17, 1992, a

Hezbollah strike team leveled the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, killing 29

persons and wounding 242. Hezbollah said the attack was intended to avenge

the killing of Lebanese Hezbollah leader Sheik Abbas Musawi, whose convoy

was obliterated by Israeli helicopter gunships in South Lebanon one month

earlier.

 

Next was the Argentine Israeli Mutual Association (AMIA) community-center

bombing in July 1994. Investigating Judge Juan Jose Galeano told Insight

recently, "There was lots of Iranian diplomatic activity just before the attack

which remains unexplained. They all got out before the bomb went off."

 

U.S. and Israeli intelligence sources believe Mugniyeh was involved in the

planning of the AMIA attack and may have parachuted into Argentina on an

Iranian service passport at the last minute to activate sleeper networks and

handle logistics for the bomb. "Hezbollah claimed responsibility for that

attack," a State Department counterterrorism analyst tells Insight, "and

Mugniyeh heads the terror wing of that organization."

 

Army reserve Brig. Gen. Shimon Shapira, previously a senior

military-intelligence officer who tracked Mugniyeh's career, told Israeli journalist

Ronen Bergman: "This man isn't working alone. All his power comes from his

reliance on the Iranian intelligence service. None of his operations could have

been executed without their infrastructure. This infrastructure is very wide,

ranging from embassies [and] commerce delegations to all other Iranian state

activities. No one is overstating Mugniyeh's work because it represents the

whole of Hezbollah."

 

In 1996, Mugniyeh wanted to hit another commercial airliner, this time from El

Al. The name on the expertly forged British passport used by Mugniyeh's

operative was Andrew Jonathan Neumann. El Al's much-vaunted security failed

to notice anything suspicious about him or to detect the kilogram of

military-grade RDX explosive he was carrying when he entered Israel in April

1996 on a Swissair flight from Zurich.

 

Neumann wasn't British. He was a Lebanese Shiite named Hussein Mohammad

Mikdad. Luckily for his intended victims, he failed Bomb-making 101. While

mixing his deadly brew in an East Jerusalem hotel room, Mikdad blew off his

lower body. From his hospital bed he said he had been trained in Iran to

become "a heroic human flying bomb," detonating the explosive while

traveling on an El Al flight departing from Tel Aviv. "The operation was a

special gift" to Israel from Imad Mugniyeh, he said.

 

Before Sept. 11, the Israelis were picking up numerous signs that Mugniyeh

was planning new operations aimed at Israel and the United States. A top

Israeli military-intelligence official, Maj. Gen. Amos Malka, went on Israeli

television in June to warn that "bin Laden has tried, will try to reach us and

may even reach us here in Israel." He described recent attempts by bin Laden

to establish terrorist cells in Gaza and the West Bank and said bin Laden's

group was "planning an attack on U.S. and Israeli interests within the next few

weeks." Mugniyeh was believed to be involved in several of these infiltration

attempts.

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin has fingered bin Laden, Mugniyeh and Iran

for helping to train Chechen rebels who fight against the Russian government.

Speaking in Germany just 10 days after the Sept. 11 attacks, Putin said he

had given specific information to the United States on Arab fighters in

Chechnya whom Mugniyeh had trained. "As a rule, activities of terrorists are

very coordinated," he said. "For example, on one Arab mercenary in Chechnya

we found instructions for flying a Boeing."

 

Jane's reported in October that for the last two years Iraqi intelligence officers

were shuttling between Baghdad and Afghanistan, meeting with bin Laden,

Mugniyeh and bin Laden deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri. Top U.S. officials were

briefed on these ties on Oct. 26, Insight reported ("Iran Cosponsors Al-Qaeda

Terrorism," Dec. 3).

 

Bin Laden first met Mugniyeh in 1993, according to his former chief of security,

Ali Mohammad. In a plea agreement entered on Oct. 20, 2000, in the

Southern District of New York for his involvement in the U.S. Embassy

bombings in Africa, Mohammad acknowledges that he "arranged security" for

the meeting that took place while bin Laden was living in the Sudan.

Mohammad said Mugniyeh's Hezbollah group "provided explosives training for

al-Qaeda and al-Jihad," the two groups most closely tied to bin Laden. "Iran

supplied Egyptian Jihad with weapons. Iran also used Hezbollah to supply

explosives that were disguised to look like rocks."

 

An earlier affidavit by FBI Agent Daniel Coleman, based on information

provided former members of al-Qaeda, reported that bin Laden personally

exhorted his followers to "put aside [their] differences with Shiite Muslim

terrorist organizations, including the government of Iran and its affiliated

terrorist group Hezbollah, to cooperate against the perceived common enemy,

the United States and its allies."

 

Mugniyeh and Iran go way back, and their close association disturbs some

analysts at the U.S. State Department, which is trying to rehabilitate the

regime of Iranian President Mohammad Khatami. "There is no evidence that

Mugniyeh was one of the planners of the Sept. 11 attacks," a State

Department official tells Insight. "In fact, there is evidence to the contrary."

 

Separating Mugniyeh from bin Laden, Iran and Saddam Hussein's Iraq &emdash; with

whom bin Laden has formed increasingly close ties during the last six years &emdash;

has become an important goal for the professional diplomats, who are seeking

to limit the U.S. war on terrorism to a renegade Saudi and his band of merry

men holed up in Afghanistan. But, for FBI investigators and U.S. intelligence

analysts, the evidence is piling up of a consortium of groups and states that

defy commonly accepted boundaries. "Call it a terrorism clearinghouse," one

government analyst tells Insight.

 

Kenneth R. Timmerman is a senior writer for Insight magazine.

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Story Source: Insight on the News