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. 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

"Ad-Dawaa 17."


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