The man who master-minded a string of massive car-bombings against U.S. and Israeli targets on behalf of Iran’s radical Islamic government reportedly was killed on Tuesday in a car-bomb attack in Damascus.
Imad Mugniyeh, a Lebanese Shiite who went to work for Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps shortly after the 1982 Lebanon war, was 46.
“He’s gone to the other side,” a U.S. official with access to ongoing U.S. government reporting on the reported assassination told Newsmax.
Before the September 11 attacks, the FBI considered him the most wanted terrorist in the world, since he was responsible for hundreds of American deaths in repeated car-bomb attacks against the U.S. embassy in Beirut, against the U.S. Marines compound in Beirut, and elsewhere.
He was formally identified by U.S. intelligence for his personal involvement in the kidnapping and torture of CIA Beirut station chief William Buckley in 1984, the murder of USMC Colonel Rich Higgins, and the kidnapping of Associated Press reporter Terry Anderson.
Interpol issued an international arrest warrant for him last year for his involvement in the July 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires, Argentina, that killed 86 people.
As I revealed in Countdown to Crisis: the Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran, Mugniyeh also was identified in top-secret National Security Agency intercepts obtained by the 9/11 commission shortly before they released their final report in July 2004..
The intercepts identified Mugniyeh as traveling on board several Iran Air flights from Damascus to Tehran between October 2000 and February 2001 that carried eight to ten of the “muscle” hijackers who would later carry out the 9/11 attacks on America.
In the 9/11 commission report, Mugniyeh is merely identified as a “senior Hezbollah operative.” But sources who reviewed the documents told me there was no ambiguity whatsoever that Mugniyeh was the person on board the planes, several of which made a quick stop-over in Beirut where some of the hijackers came on board.
A former Iranian intelligence officer, now living in exile in Germany, told me this morning that he recalled Mugniyeh’s role in convoying the al Qaeda hijackers to Iran.
The former Iranian intelligence officer, who knew Mugniyeh personally when he was in Iran, says the Lebanese terrorist had been dispatched from Tehran to meet the hijackers, but never got off the plane.
“He was on the airplane as a security officer. I remember that,” the former Iranian intelligence officer told me today.
Mugniyeh burst onto the international scene in 1985, when the FBI found his fingerprints in the rear toilet of TWA flight 847 that a group of Hezbollah operatives had hijacked to Beirut.
Mugniyeh and the his fellow hijackers are wanted by the FBI for their cold-blooded murder of U.S. Navy diver Robbie Stethem, who was traveling home from an assignment in Greece on board TWA 847.
The terrorists shot Stethem and dumped his body out on the tarmac, in front of television cameras.
After that attack, Mugniyeh never appeared in public again, and is said to have undergone multiple plastic surgery operations in Iran to significantly alter his appearance.
One of his former colleagues in Iran told me three years ago that he now looks like “Richard Gere with a potbelly.”
The photograph that was released by Hezbollah’s al-Manar television today when they announced his death bears little resemblance to the Hollywood actor. But the bearded man wearing glasses and army fatigues certainly has grown a pot belly.
For more than two decades, Mugniyeh ran Hezbollah’s international terrorist and security operations.
According to a childhood friend I called this morning in Dearborn, Michigan, “everyone is crying” over his death.
“There is no doubt. That was Imad,” he told me.
In Lebanon, the childhood friend said that Mugniyeh was known as “Haj Radwan. Nobody says ‘Emad’ in Lebanon.”
Hezbollah suspects that Syria may have played a part in Mugniyeh’s killing, Newsmax has learned from sources close to senior leaders in the terrorist organization.
“He was killed as he was going to meet Roustam Ghazali, the head of Syrian military intelligence in Beirut,” a Newsmax source in close contact with the Hezbollah leadership told me this morning.
Ghazali is wanted by the international tribunal investigating the car-bombing assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri on Feb. 14, 2005. His office is located in a luxury high-rise in the Kfar Soussa area of Damascus, where Mugniyeh’s car was blown up by an explosive charge.
Hezbollah plans to hold a massive public funeral for Mugniyeh tomorrow, which also is the anniversary of Hariri’s death.
The anti-Syrian Cedars Revolution, also known as the March 14 movement, plans to hold a rival demonstration to commemorate Hariri’s assassination at the same time.
Just yesterday, a key leader of the March 14 movement, Walid Jumblatt, warned Hezbollah and their backers in Syria and Iran that if they wanted war, “we are ready.”
Jumblatt said that pro-government militias were prepared to disarm Hezbollah, if that became necessary.
Sources in Beirut tell Newsmax that two days before the car-bombing that killed Mugniyeh, an 8-man team of U.S. paramilitary officers landed in civilian clothing at the Beirut airport and was whisked away to the U.S. embassy compound in the hills overlooking a Christian suburb of Beirut.
“We obviously can’t comment on that,” a U.S. government official said.
Hezbollah sources warned that they would retaliate for Mugniyeh’s killing. “Very soon, they we release information on who killed him,” a source close to the Hezbollah leadership told me.
“And after that, watch out. This is a very very big loss for Hezbollah. They will strike back, and it could be anywhere in the world.”
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