Mughniyeh Linked Also to Arafat
4 November, 2001
On February 9, the Washington magazine US News & World Report ran a cover story captioned: Hostage to Terror, What the US Can Do The face on the cover was that of American Professor Robert Polhill, who was kidnapped January 24 in Beirut, by a master of terror named in print for the first time in that article: Imad Mughniyeh.
One particular paragraph of that spine-chilling expose sheds a harsh light on the fate of Mugniyeh’s victims:
Intelligence sources have told U.S.News that some of the hostages (American and European), when first captured, are brought to a sound-proofed basement of a building in Dahya where they are blindfolded and chained to their beds. It is only after they have been held for some time that the blindfolds are removed and the hostages are allowed to stretch their legs. When they are transported to different locations, it is done secretly: Some have even been carried in trunks and cardboard boxes.
Inevitably, most of the decisions regarding the hostages in Dahya are made by one man. His name, sources say, is Imad Mughniyeh, a Palestinian Shiite with close ties to Iran.
This name struck the intelligence community like a thunderbolt - especially when the writer went on to uncover new aspects of that Palestinian Shiite’s trail of terror: the Beirut hostage-taking dramas of the 1980s, the bombings and other atrocities, notably the devastating explosion at the US embassy in Beirut in April 1983, in which 63 Americans died and the entire top rank of the CIA’s Middle East-Persian Gulf department, 29 officers in all, were massacred, including the brilliant Middle East desk chief Robert Ames.
The article carried two striking revelations: The US embassy was not ravaged by a truck-bomb as reported then and since, but by a bomb planted on the floor above the conference room in which the CIA officers assembled.
DEBKAfile’s intelligence sources disclose for the first time, 19 years after the event, that two minutes after the CIA chiefs took their seats in that room, the explosive charge was detonated by remote control.
The second revelation shows up a little-known facet of Mughniye’s murky past: Up until 1982, when he burst on the Shiite terrorist world of Beirut, Mughniye was a member of Yasser Arafat’s personal guard, Force 17, when the Fatah group was one of the fiercest warring militias of the savage Lebanese civil war.
The embassy bombing must have been executed with the help of an inside informer or a mole. So secret was the top-level CIA conference that only a trusted insider would have known enough to give its timing away to the bomber. That insider had to have pre-knowledge of the meeting and be present in the building to signal the outside detonator. That was one of many clues to how deeply US intelligence was penetrated.
That problem was not attacked, any more than the terror menace that began sprouting then. Instead, after suffering a series of terror strikes, Washington turned its back and ordered the US Marines and other Americans to leave war-torn Lebanon and go home.
Switching fast forward to early 1996, 1997 and 1998, DEBKAfile’s intelligence sources discover intelligence building up in the Middle East and the US on operational relations developing between Mughniyeh and the young Saudi Islamic firebrand Osama Bin Laden, on the one hand, and between Mugniyeh and his erstwhile boss Arafat, on the other.
From March 1997 on, US and Israeli intelligence discover the collaboration between the Palestinian Shiite and the Saudi fundamentalist deepening. Mughniyeh’s hand is detected in setting up the 1998 US embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam.
Then on October 7, 2000, ten days after Yasser Arafat launched his intifada confrontation with Israel, three Israeli soldiers were snatched while patrolling the Israel-Lebanese frontier.
This week, after a year of cruel suspense and a hopeless quest for some sign from the missing men, the bereaved families received formal notice from the IDF’s chief chaplain that the men were judged dead in action, no longer missing without trace.
Three weeks after the soldiers were abducted last October, a civilian, Elhanan Tannenboim, described in the media as a Mossad agent, was abducted. DEBKAfile,whichreported at the time that Mughniyeh masterminded the four abductions, added subsequently that he had handed the three bodies and the live civilian over to Bin Laden’s people.
Proof positive of the links between the three terror masters led to the targeted killing on February 13, 2001, of the Palestinian Col. Masoud Ayad, a senior operation officer of Arafat’s Force 17, in the southern Gaza Strip. Five days later, after he was cut down in a missile attack by Israeli choppers, DEBKAfileexplained why Ehud Barak, then prime minister, had decided to target Ayad.
Late in May, 2000, four months before he launched his uprising, Arafat sent Ayad to Beirut on a mission to Lebanon. He was instructed to organize the purchase from the Shiite extremist Hizballah of a quantity of weapons and to recruit their experts in suicide bombings and mortars as instructors for Palestinian terrorists. Shortly after the intifada erupted, smuggled weapons began to flow from Lebanon to Palestinian areas, and the imported Hizballah instructors were soon at work in the Gaza Strip and later on the West Bank, under the protection of the various Palestinian Authority security services.
Col. Ayad was the linchpin of Arafat’s Hizballah project, which vastly enhanced the scope and deadliness of Palestinian terror. On his trips to Lebanon, he made a beeline for the big Palestinian refugee camp, Ein Hilweh near Tyre in South Lebanon, rather than the Beirut headquarters of the Hizballah secretary general, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah.
His reason was discovered later: One of Mughniyeh’s two main Lebanon cells operates secretly at Ein Hilweh; the second at Nahar al Badar in the north.
Arafat Knew of Abductions
In the course of the desperate search for the bodies of its three abducted soldiers, Israeli intelligence investigators came upon intelligence evidence that Col. Ayad knew of Mughniyeh’s plot to kidnap the Israelis and was in fact an active accomplice. It was he who carried Mughniyeh’s agents’ request to Palestinian intelligence for a detailed account of the scene at the Shaaba Farms frontier sector. Col. Ayad would never made this or any move without reporting to Yasser Arafat, who must therefore have been aware of Mughniyeh’s plan, at least in outline.
Of late, Israel discovered - and passed the information to Washington by foreign minister Peres - that segments of Hizballah’s front line on the Israeli border, especially in the Shaaba Farms area, have passed to the direct control of Mughniyeh’s men.
Just as the Palestinian Shiite terrorist never let the Hizballah into the secret of the kidnapped Israeli soldiers, he does not intend letting them know next time he strikes against Israel.
Part of the intelligence Peres conveyed to Washington relates to Mughniyeh’s plans to kidnap more Israeli soldiers and civilians, kill some and hold some hostage in the same conditions as he held the American and Western hostages in Beirut in the 1980s.
One of the British prime minister Tony Blair’s tasks in Damascus last week was to ask President Bashar Assad to rein in Mughniyeh’s men and especially along the Lebanese frontier. But Assad refused.
The Bush administration’s decision to add three Palestinian groups, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Hamas and the Jihad Islami to the list of terrorist groups and impound their bank accounts, is a forward step in the global assault on terrorism, but the war against one of the three most dangerous terrorists in the world, Imad Mughniye, is still ahead.