Wednesday 25 Nov 2020 | 01:37 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 25 Nov 2020 | 01:37 | SYDNEY

Who killed Imad Mugniyah?


Anthony Bubalo

14 February 2008 09:10

We wake to the news this morning that one of the world’s leading terrorists, Imad Mughniyah, was killed by a car bomb not far from his house in Damascus. A key figure in the Lebanese Hizballah, he led what was effectively the movement’s covert operations wing.  He was a shadowy figure, rarely photographed and reputedly a keen patron of plastic surgery in an effort to keep his many pursuers at bay. Mughniyah came from pre al-Qaeda terrorist old school and hence, outside of the Middle East, his death might not be considered big news.  But it is actually huge, for a few reasons.

Firstly, he was held responsible for some of Hizballah’s most spectacular and lethal terrorist attacks. He was indicted for the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community centre in Buenos Aries that killed 85; he was seen as responsible for the 1985 hijacking of a TWA airliners in which a US sailor was murdered; he was believed to be behind the bombing of the US Embassy in Beirut in 1983 that killed 63; and he may have had a hand in the attacks on US and French Marines and kidnappings of Westerners in Lebanon in the 1980s.

Secondly, he was a key link between Hizballah and its patrons in Iran, in particular, the Revolutionary Guards, and was central to Hizballah’s capacity to launch covert actions and terrorist attacks outside of Lebanon. Had the US ever attacked Iran over its nuclear program, Mughniyah would have been heavily involved in the covert aspects of Iran’s response.

Thirdly, given that he was no mere soldier, his death raises a real prospect of some form of retaliation against Israel and maybe even the US. Of course, this depends on who killed him, or more to the point, who is held responsible for his death.

Israel has denied any involvement, but would top the list of candidates by a long margin. Yet if one wanted to get really Byzantine – and this is the Middle East after all – I would not totally rule Syria out either.  Damascus has publicly expressed its outrage at the killing and so far there is no evidence that it might have been involved. Yet Damascus might not be averse to a little house cleaning – or to allowing its house to be cleaned by others — in the interest of improving its relations with the West. 

Photo by Flickr user Whodisan215, used under a Creative Commons licence.