Insight on the News - World
Issue date: 12/31/01
He has blown up U.S. embassies and car-bombed a U.S. militarybarracks. He
has hijacked U.S. commercial airliners and murdered Americans. Hehas
kidnapped and tortured a top CIA officer and vowed through terrorto drive the
United States from his country. Do you know who he is?
If you guessed Osama bin Laden, you're wrong. The correct answeris Imad
Fayez Mugniyeh (pronounced MOOG-NEE-YEH), a Lebanese Shiitelong
considered one of the world's most ruthless and elusive killers.The CIA has
been tracking him since 1984 when he masterminded the kidnappingin Beirut
of CIA station chief William Buckley, apparently on orders fromIran. Now
evidence is beginning to mount that Mugniyeh has deep ties to binLaden and
his al-Qaeda network and may have been directly involved inplanning 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 theoutrages of September
11? We can't rule it out. Hezbollah is part of bin Laden'sInternational Islamic
Front for Jihad on the Jews and Crusaders, and Mugniyeh is thehead of
Hezbollah's special-operations branch."
Twice the United States spotted Mugniyeh on international flightsand sought
to have him arrested. In 1986, he was leaving Charles de GaulleAirport after
several days of secret negotiations with the French government.Although the
CIA provided a copy of the passport he was using, the Frenchdeclined to stop
him. Nine years later, he was flying back to Beirut from Khartoumafter a
meeting with bin Laden in the Sudan. The United States arrangedfor his
Middle East Airways plane to make an unscheduled stopover inJedda, Saudi
Arabia, but the Saudi authorities refused to force him to leavethe plane.
Neither the French nor the Saudis wanted him on their hands.
"Imad Mugniyeh is one of the most demonic of the militant Islamicleaders,"
says Daniel Pipes of the Middle East Forum in Philadelphia. "Heappears to
serve as a bridge between the 1980s, when the violence wasprimarily Shiite,
and today, when it is primarily Sunni."
Mugniyeh and his Iranian backers are Shiite Muslims; bin Ladenand his
followers are Sunnis. Most terrorism analysts and Islamicscholars insist that
the two Muslim sects are on less-friendly terms than Catholicsand Protestants
in Belfast. But when it comes to terrorism, they are dead wrong.
The eldest of four children, Mugniyeh was born in the village ofTir 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 ofShia
Lebanon's best jurists" by American Islamic scholar Fouad Ajami.
As a high-school dropout, Mugniyeh was recruited by YasserArafat's Fatah
faction and later joined the elite Force 17, Arafat's personalsecurity 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 byIran called
Hezbollah (Party of God). Its goal was to drive the Westernpowers out of
Imad Mugniyeh became Hezbollah's star recruit, reporting directlyto Ali Akbar
Mohtashemi-Pour, Iran's ambassador to Syria. His terroristpedigree began
with a bang when he organized the April 18, 1983, bombing of theU.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, withIranian and
Syrian help, he plotted the twin suicide truck-bomb attacks inBeirut that took
the lives of 242 U.S. Marines and 58 French troops.
For many years Mugniyeh's personal involvement in those earlybombings
remained obscure. It wasn't until he kidnapped the new CIAstation chief to
Beirut, William Buckley, in April 1984 that the U.S. intelligencecommunity
began to get a fix on him.
David Jacobsen was one of a dozen Americans and Frenchmenkidnapped 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 andremembers his
ordeal well. "I was chained to the floor; I was blindfolded. Theperson at my
feet, I later learned, was Terry Anderson, and the person at thehead was Bill
Mugniyeh's guards tried to keep them from speaking to oneanother. "One of
the chilling moments for me and for Terry Anderson was to hearBill 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 30days ago.'"
The CIA now believes that Buckley was tortured to death byMugniyeh
personally, who extracted whatever secrets he could and thenmurdered him.
Buckley was honored by CIA director William H. Webster at aposthumous
ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery on May 13, 1988, and astar in his
honor was carved into the wall of CIA headquarters &emdash; the51st.
Mugniyeh burst onto the international scene with the brash June1985 hijacking
of TWA Flight 847 from Greece to Beirut, where he held 39Americans hostage
for 17 days. Wearing a ski mask, Mugniyeh prowled the aisles ofthe aircraft
looking for U.S. military personnel and discovered U.S. Navydiver Robert
Stethem. He tortured and shot Stethem, then dumped his body outon the
runway in full view of international TV cameras. Later, the FBIwas able to
identify Mugniyeh's fingerprints in the rear lavatory of theaircraft and indicted
him for Stethem's murder.
Mugniyeh also murdered for personal reasons, including therelease of a
family member. The man who initiated him in the art ofbomb-making was his
brother-in-law, Mustapha Badr-el-Din, whose crippled legsprevented him from
joining a Beirut militia. Badr-el-Din plied his trade bydesigning the bombs
used in a series of devastating attacks against Kuwait. He wasarrested and
sentenced to death for his crimes by the Kuwaiti government.
In April 1988, Mugniyeh orchestrated the hijacking of a KuwaitAirlines flight to
Bangkok. On board were three members of the Kuwaiti royal family.In
exchange for their freedom, Mugniyeh demanded the release ofhis
brother-in-law and 16 other Shiite prisoners in Kuwait, knowncollectively as the
The plane made a three-day stopover in the eastern Iranian cityof Mashad,
where some sources believe Mugniyeh personally boarded theaircraft and
brought on additional hijackers and weapons. Next, they flew toCyprus, where
two Kuwaiti passengers were murdered and dumped onto the runwayin a
stunning replay of the TWA hijacking three years earlier. Theyended up in
Algiers, where negotiators from the Iranian and Algeriangovernments, as well
as Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization, arrangedsafe passage
for all the hijackers.
Intelligence officials believe Mugniyeh is seeking personalvengeance on the
United States and Israel for the deaths of his brothers, whichexplains in part
his willingness to lend his expertise to operations organized byother groups.
Mugniyeh's brothers were killed in retaliatory attacks in Lebanonbelieved to
have been carried out by Israeli and U.S. operatives.
"Bin Laden is a schoolboy in comparison with Mugniyeh," anIsraeli-intelligence
officer told Jane's Foreign Report recently. "The guy is agenius, someone who
refined the art of terrorism to its utmost level. We studied himand reached
the conclusion that he is a clinical psychopath motivated byuncontrollable
psychological reasons, which we have given up trying tounderstand. The killing
of his two brothers by the Americans only inflamed his strongmotivation."
His brother, Jihad Mugniyeh, died in 1985 when a car bombintended for
Hezbollah leader Sheik Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah killed 75people outside
Fadlallah's home in Beirut. Hezbollah blamed the CIA for theattack. His other
brother, Fuad Mugniyeh, died in December 1994 when another carbomb
exploded near the mosque where Fadlallah preached his weeklysermon,
directly outside of a shop owned by Fuad. The car-bomb attackreportedly was
ordered by Israel in reprisal for the bombing of the JewishCommunity Center
in Buenos Aires earlier that year which killed 86.
In the 1990s Mugniyeh shifted focus from Lebanon and the PersianGulf to
launch a series of dramatic international operations. On March17, 1992, a
Hezbollah strike team leveled the Israeli Embassy in BuenosAires, killing 29
persons and wounding 242. Hezbollah said the attack was intendedto avenge
the killing of Lebanese Hezbollah leader Sheik Abbas Musawi,whose convoy
was obliterated by Israeli helicopter gunships in South Lebanonone month
Next was the Argentine Israeli Mutual Association (AMIA)community-center
bombing in July 1994. Investigating Judge Juan Jose Galeano toldInsight
recently, "There was lots of Iranian diplomatic activity justbefore the attack
which remains unexplained. They all got out before the bomb wentoff."
U.S. and Israeli intelligence sources believe Mugniyeh wasinvolved in the
planning of the AMIA attack and may have parachuted intoArgentina on an
Iranian service passport at the last minute to activate sleepernetworks and
handle logistics for the bomb. "Hezbollah claimed responsibilityfor that
attack," a State Department counterterrorism analyst tellsInsight, "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, toldIsraeli journalist
Ronen Bergman: "This man isn't working alone. All his power comesfrom his
reliance on the Iranian intelligence service. None of hisoperations could have
been executed without their infrastructure. This infrastructureis very wide,
ranging from embassies [and] commerce delegations to allother Iranian state
activities. No one is overstating Mugniyeh's work because itrepresents the
whole of Hezbollah."
In 1996, Mugniyeh wanted to hit another commercial airliner, thistime from El
Al. The name on the expertly forged British passport used byMugniyeh's
operative was Andrew Jonathan Neumann. El Al's much-vauntedsecurity failed
to notice anything suspicious about him or to detect the kilogramof
military-grade RDX explosive he was carrying when he enteredIsrael in April
1996 on a Swissair flight from Zurich.
Neumann wasn't British. He was a Lebanese Shiite named HusseinMohammad
Mikdad. Luckily for his intended victims, he failed Bomb-making101. While
mixing his deadly brew in an East Jerusalem hotel room, Mikdadblew off his
lower body. From his hospital bed he said he had been trained inIran to
become "a heroic human flying bomb," detonating the explosivewhile
traveling on an El Al flight departing from Tel Aviv. "Theoperation was a
special gift" to Israel from Imad Mugniyeh, he said.
Before Sept. 11, the Israelis were picking up numerous signs thatMugniyeh
was planning new operations aimed at Israel and the UnitedStates. 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 toreach us and
may even reach us here in Israel." He described recent attemptsby bin Laden
to establish terrorist cells in Gaza and the West Bank and saidbin Laden's
group was "planning an attack on U.S. and Israeli interestswithin the next few
weeks." Mugniyeh was believed to be involved in several of theseinfiltration
Russian President Vladimir Putin has fingered bin Laden, Mugniyehand Iran
for helping to train Chechen rebels who fight against the Russiangovernment.
Speaking in Germany just 10 days after the Sept. 11 attacks,Putin said he
had given specific information to the United States on Arabfighters in
Chechnya whom Mugniyeh had trained. "As a rule, activities ofterrorists are
very coordinated," he said. "For example, on one Arab mercenaryin Chechnya
we found instructions for flying a Boeing."
Jane's reported in October that for the last two years Iraqiintelligence officers
were shuttling between Baghdad and Afghanistan, meeting with binLaden,
Mugniyeh and bin Laden deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri. Top U.S.officials were
briefed on these ties on Oct. 26, Insight reported ("IranCosponsors Al-Qaeda
Terrorism," Dec. 3).
Bin Laden first met Mugniyeh in 1993, according to his formerchief of security,
Ali Mohammad. In a plea agreement entered on Oct. 20, 2000, inthe
Southern District of New York for his involvement in the U.S.Embassy
bombings in Africa, Mohammad acknowledges that he "arrangedsecurity" for
the meeting that took place while bin Laden was living in theSudan.
Mohammad said Mugniyeh's Hezbollah group "provided explosivestraining for
al-Qaeda and al-Jihad," the two groups most closely tied to binLaden. "Iran
supplied Egyptian Jihad with weapons. Iran also used Hezbollah tosupply
explosives that were disguised to look like rocks."
An earlier affidavit by FBI Agent Daniel Coleman, based oninformation
provided former members of al-Qaeda, reported that bin Ladenpersonally
exhorted his followers to "put aside [their] differenceswith Shiite Muslim
terrorist organizations, including the government of Iran and itsaffiliated
terrorist group Hezbollah, to cooperate against the perceivedcommon enemy,
the United States and its allies."
Mugniyeh and Iran go way back, and their close associationdisturbs some
analysts at the U.S. State Department, which is trying torehabilitate the
regime of Iranian President Mohammad Khatami. "There is noevidence that
Mugniyeh was one of the planners of the Sept. 11 attacks," aState
Department official tells Insight. "In fact, there is evidence tothe contrary."
Separating Mugniyeh from bin Laden, Iran and Saddam Hussein'sIraq &emdash; with
whom bin Laden has formed increasingly close ties during the lastsix years &emdash;
has become an important goal for the professional diplomats, whoare seeking
to limit the U.S. war on terrorism to a renegade Saudi and hisband 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 andstates that
defy commonly accepted boundaries. "Call it a terrorismclearinghouse," one
government analyst tells Insight.
Kenneth R. Timmerman is a senior writer for Insight magazine.
Story Source: Insight on the News