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Imad Mughniyeh
عماد مغنية
Hezbollah Chief of Staff
Personal details
Born(1962-12-07)7 December 1962
Tayr Dibba, Lebanon
Died12 February 2008(2008-02-12) (aged 45)
Kafr Sousa, Damascus, Syria
Political party Hezbollah
Children8, including Jihad
OccupationAssassin, revolutionarist, jihadist

Imad Fayez Mughniyeh (Arabic: عماد فايز مغنية‎; 7 December 1962 – 12 February 2008),[1] alias al-Hajj Radwan (الحاج رضوان), was a Lebanese militant leader who was the founding member of Lebanon's Islamic Jihad Organization and number two in Hezbollah's leadership. Information about Mughniyeh is limited, but he is believed to have been Hezbollah's chief of staff and understood to have overseen Hezbollah's military, intelligence, and security apparatuses. He was one of the main founders of Hezbollah in the 1980s. He has been described as "a brilliant military tactician and very elusive". He was often referred to as an ‘untraceable ghost’.[2]

U.S. and Israeli officials have long accused Mughniyeh of being directly and personally involved in terrorist attacks which has resulted in many suicide bombings, murders, kidnappings, and assassinations. It began with the Beirut barracks bombing and U.S. embassy bombings, both of which took place in 1983 and killed over 350, as well as the kidnapping of dozens of foreigners in Lebanon in the 1980s. He was indicted in Argentina for his alleged role in the 1992 Israeli embassy attack in Buenos Aires. The highest-profile attacks for which it is claimed he is responsible took place in the early 1980s, shortly after the founding of Hezbollah, when Mughniyeh was in his early twenties. U.S. intelligence officials have accused him of killing more United States citizens than any other man prior to the September 11 attacks, and the bombings and kidnappings he is alleged to have organized are credited with all but eliminating and completely removing the US military presence in Lebanon in the 1980s.[3]

Mughniyeh was known by his nom de guerre Al-Hajj Radwan. Mughniyeh was included in the European Union's list of wanted terrorists[4][5][6] and had a US$5 million bounty on the FBI Most Wanted Terrorists list.[7] To many in his home country, Lebanon and the Middle East, he’s seen to be a national symbol and hero.[8]

As part of a joint CIAMossad operation,[9][10] Mughniyeh was killed on the night of 12 February 2008 by a car bomb that was detonated as he passed by on foot,[11] in the Kafr Sousa neighbourhood of Damascus, Syria.[12][13][14]

Early life

Mughniyeh was born in the village of Tayr Dibba, near Tyre, on 7 December 1962 to a family of poor farmers who harvested olives and lemons in the orchards of Lebanon's southern Shi'a heartland.[15][16] His father's name was Fayez.[17] For some time it was mistakenly thought that he was the son of Jawad (or Javad) Mughniyeh, a religious figure and author.[18] His birth date had also been given as July 1962.[19] Mughniyeh had two younger brothers, Jihad and Fouad.[16][18] About a decade after Mughniyeh's birth, his father moved the family to southern Beirut.[17] CIA South Group records state that Mughniyeh lived in Ayn Al-Dilbah, an impoverished neighborhood in South Beirut.[20] Mughniyeh is described as having been a popular boy and a "natural entertainer" who cracked jokes at family weddings and "worked the crowd with a confidence unusual for a youth his age."[15]

Mughniyeh and his cousin Mustafa Badr Al Din became active in the Palestinian Fatah movement at an early age.[21] Mughniyeh was discovered by fellow Lebanese Ali Abu Hassan Deeb (who would later become a leader in Hezbollah) and quickly rose through the ranks of the movement.[22] In the mid-1970s, Mugniyeh organized the "Student Brigade," a unit of 100 young men which became part of Yasser Arafat's elite Force 17.[15] Mughniyeh temporarily left Fatah in 1981 due to differences of opinion on the regime of Saddam Hussein. Mughniyeh was a Shiite and deeply religious and was upset by the murder of the Iraqi Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir as-Sadr in 1980 as well as a previous attempt by the Iraqi intelligence on the life of Lebanese Ayatollah Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah.[22]

Fatah was formally in alliance with the Lebanese National Movement, which included the Lebanese pro-Iraqi branch of the Ba’th party. Mughniyeh and some of his Lebanese Shiite comrades were forced to leave Fatah after engaging in armed confrontations with Ba’th party activists. They had previously organized a body guard unit for Ayatollah Fadlallah and other Shiite clerics in Lebanon. Mughniyeh accompanied Ayatollah Fadlallah on a Hajj pilgrimage in 1980 and thus earned his Hajj title.[22]

Mughniyeh was briefly a student in the engineering department at the American University of Beirut.[23] After the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, he joined Fatah. He participated in the defence of West Beirut, where he was wounded in the fighting. After the withdrawal of PLO forces from Beirut in September 1982, Mughniyeh acquired an important position in the nascent resistance to the Israeli occupation, due to his knowledge of arms caches left behind by the Palestinians. He remained a Fatah member during this period but also worked with other factions, such as the leftist Lebanese National Movement and Islamic resistance groups. Mughniyeh remained a member of Fatah until 1984, when he joined the newly created Islamic Resistance of Hezbollah. However, he remained close to Fatah leader Khalil al-Wazir (Abu Jihad) until the latter's assassination in 1988. He also remained deeply committed to the Palestine cause throughout his life and apparently founded the secret "Committee for Elimination of Israel" inside Hezbollah in 2000.[24] In later years, and especially after the Oslo accords, Mughniyeh and Hezbollah sided with the more militant Palestinian factions such as Hamas and the Islamic Jihad.[22]

Mughniyeh worked as the chief security for Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, a Shiia cleric and a spiritual mentor to many in Lebanon's Shi'a community, whose political consciousness was on the rise. Fadlallah held no formal political role, "opposed violence and sectarian division, and defied growing Iranian influence in Lebanon[clarification needed]."

Personal life

In 1983, Mughniyeh married his cousin, Saada Badr Al Din, who is the sister of Mustafa Badr Al Din.[25] Mughniyeh had three children according to his mother: Fatima (born August 1984), Mustafa (born January 1987), and Jihad (estimated to have been age 25 at death).[25][26] In September 1991, Mugniyeh's wife and children were sent to Tehran for security reasons.[25] Later his family began to live in south Lebanon.[27] Mughniyeh also married an Iranian woman, Wafaa Mughniyeh, with whom he lived in Damascus.[27][28]

On 21 December 1994 a car bomb in Chyah, Beirut, killed Mughniyeh’s brother, Fuad. Two other people were killed in the explosion and sixteen wounded.[29]

Mughniyeh's younger son, Jihad, was killed in the January 2015 Mazraat Amal incident in the Syrian Golan sector on 18 January 2015. Five other Hezbollah members and an Iranian Quds Force general were also killed in the attack.[30]


According to former CIA agent Robert Baer, "Mughniyah is probably the most intelligent, most capable operative we’ve ever run across, including the KGB or anybody else. He enters by one door, exits by another, changes his cars daily, never makes appointments on a telephone, never is predictable. He only uses people that are loyal to him that he can fully trust. He doesn't just recruit people."[31] He was described as "tall, slender, well-dressed and handsome ... penetrating eyes," speaking some English but better French.[32]

"Both bin Laden and Mughniyeh were pathological killers," 30-year veteran CIA officer Milton Bearden said. "But there was always a nagging amateurishness about bin Laden—his wildly hyped background, his bogus and false claims. … Bin Laden cowered and hid. Mughniyeh spent his life giving us the finger."[33]

Nasrallah also stated that, "Hajj Imad is among the best leaders and commanders in the Lebanese arena. He had an important role during the occupation [of southern Lebanon by Israel] by 2000. But as for his relationship with Hezbollah, we maintain the tradition of not discussing names."[34] Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, who commanded the elite Quds Force, described Mugniyeh as "the legend of our time," grief caused by whose loss was only second to that of Ruhollah Khomeini, leader of the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Soleimani stated that what made Mugniyeh unique was not his expertise in guerrilla warfare but "his attachment to something superterrestrial."[35] According to Soleimani, Mugniyeh was so courteous that he was never seen boasting to fellow Hezbollah leaders about his unique military record in fighting Israel.[35]

After his death, Mugniyeh acquired a storied and folkloric persona. To many in his home country, Lebanon, and in the Middle East, he symbolizes resistance to foreign military occupation, a hero and a mastermind who single-handedly drove out the American and Israeli armies. The man behind the stabbing of Salman Rushdie, had a fake driver's license with the name Hassan Mughniyah, which suggests a mix between the forename and surname of Hassan Nasrallah and Imad Mughniyeh, respectively.[36]

According to his family, he was a dedicated father and had a reputation for modesty, respect and humility, to the extent that his neighbors in Syria thought he was a driver for the Iranian embassy.[8]


U.S. and Israeli officials have implicated Mughniyeh of many terrorist attacks, primarily against American and Israeli targets. These include 18 April 1983 bombing of the United States embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, which killed 63 people including 17 Americans whom among them were 7 CIA officers which included Robert Ames, the head of the Near East Division.[37]

Mughniyeh was also accused of planning and organising the 23 October 1983 truck bombings against French paratroopers and the U.S. Marine barracks, attacks which killed 60 French soldiers and 240 Marines.[38][39] While a student at the American University of Beirut (AUB) on 18 January 1984, Mughniyeh allegedly assassinated Malcolm H. Kerr (father of former NBA player/current coach Steve Kerr), the school's president. On 20 September 1984, he is alleged to have attacked the US embassy annex building.

The United States indicted Mughniyeh (and his collaborator, Hassan Izz al-Din) for the 14 June 1985 hijacking of TWA Flight 847, in which he tortured and murdered the U.S. Navy Seabee diver Robert Stethem.[40] Mughniyeh and his men allegedly tortured Stethem for hours, before killing him and dumping his body onto the airport tarmac.[31]

U.S. and Israeli officials have also alleged that Mughniyeh was involved in numerous kidnappings of Americans in Beirut during the 1980s, most notably the kidnapping of Terry Anderson, Terry Waite, and William Francis Buckley, who was the CIA station chief in Beirut. Some of these individuals were killed by Mughniyeh directly, such as Buckley, who was subjected to extreme psychological and medical torture under the supervision of the psychiatrist Aziz al-Abub.[41] The remainder were released at various times, with the last one, Terry Anderson, released in 1991.[42] On 30 September 1985, Mughniyeh allegedly organised the kidnapping of four diplomats from the Soviet Embassy in Beirut, one of whom he personally killed. The result of the kidnapping was Soviet pressure on Syria to stop its operations in Northern Lebanon in exchange for the release of the remaining three hostages.[43]

Mughniyeh was formally charged by Argentina for his alleged involvement in 17 March 1992 bombings of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, which killed 29, and of the AMIA cultural building in July 1994, killing 85 people.[44] In March 2007, the Interpol issued "red notices" for his and others' alleged roles in the attack.[45]

In addition, Mughniyeh allegedly planned the killing of Micha Tamir, the IDF general in Lebanon, and two IDF soldiers on 6 April 1992.[46]

U.S. and Israeli officials have also alleged that Mugniyeh was the mastermind of the Khobar Towers bombing in 1996, which killed 19 American air force personnel and a Saudi civilian.[42]

Israeli officials accuse Mughniyeh of orchestrating the October 2000 capture of three IDF soldiers in northern Israel, and of the kidnapping of IDF colonel Elchanan Tenenbaum. They also accuse Mughniyeh of overseeing the 2006 cross border raid that killed eight soldiers and abducted two during Israel's 2006 incursion into Lebanon.[46]

Organizational affiliation

Mughniyeh has been allegedly linked to Palestinian actions such as the Karine A incident in 2002, where the Palestinian Authority was accused of importing fifty tons of weapons. He was a member of Force 17, an armed branch of the Fatah movement charged with providing security for Yasser Arafat and other prominent PLO officials.[47]

In mid-February 1997, the pro-Israeli South Lebanese Army radio station reported that Iran's intelligence service had dispatched Mughniyeh to Lebanon to directly supervise the reorganisation of Hezbollah's security and military apparatus concerned with Palestinian affairs in Lebanon and to work as a security liaison between Hezbollah and Iranian intelligence. Mughniyeh also reportedly controlled Hezbollah's security apparatus, the Special Operations Command, which handles intelligence and conducts overseas terrorist acts. Allegedly, although he used Hezbollah as a cover, he reported to the Iranians.[48] According to Jeffery Goldberg, writing in the New Yorker, "It is believed that Mugniyeh takes orders from the office of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, but that he reports to a man named Qasem Soleimani, the chief of a branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps called Al Quds, or the Jerusalem Force—the arm of the Iranian government responsible for sponsoring terror attacks on Israeli targets."[42] In January 2002, a US cable also stated that Mughniyeh left Hezbollah and got closer to Iran.[49] However, Mughniyeh was a member of Hezbollah's jihadist council until his death in February 2008.[50] After the July 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, he was assigned by Hezbollah to improve the military capabilities of the resistance in Lebanon; Damascus was his centre for this activity.[51]

The European Union listed him as "Hezbollah's Chief of Staff".[6]

Arrest warrants and attempted assassination

Various law and intelligence enforcement agencies attempted to capture Mughniyeh. The United States tried to secure his capture in France in 1986, but were thwarted by French officials' refusal to arrest him.[52]

The United States tried to capture him several times afterward, beginning with a 1995 US special forces Delta Force operation that was put in place after the CIA was tipped off that Mughniyeh was flying a Middle East Airlines charter flight Airbus A310 from Khartoum to Beirut after a meeting with several Hezbollah leaders, and was scheduled to make a stop-over in Saudi Arabia. But Saudi security officers refused to allow the plane to make its stop-over, thwarting American attempts to arrest Mughniyeh.[53][54]

The following year, the U.S. Navy planned to seize him from a Pakistani ship in Doha, Qatar, but the operation was called off. The plan, dubbed Operation RETURN OX, was carried out by ships and sailors of Amphibious Squadron Three (USS Tarawa, USS Duluth, USS Rushmore), Marines of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, and Navy SEALs assigned to the U.S. Fifth Fleet. The operation was underway, but was cancelled at the last minute when it could not be fully verified that Mughniyeh was on board the Pakistani ship.[55]

On 10 October 2001, Mughniyeh appeared on the initial list of the FBI's top 22 Most Wanted Terrorists, which was released to the public by President Bush, with a reward of up to $15 million offered for information leading to his arrest.[56] The reward was later increased to $25 million.[18] This reward remained outstanding as of 2006.[57][58] Mughniyeh was on 42 countries' wanted lists.[18]

The Israeli intelligence service Mossad made numerous attempts to assassinate Mughniyeh. His brother Fuad, a car shop owner, was killed in a 1994 Beirut car bombing, and another brother, Jihad, was killed in a car-bombing assassination attempt on the life of Hezbollah founder Sheikh Fadlallah in 1985, the work of the CIA via the South Lebanese Army. Israel planned to assassinate Mughniyeh when he attended the funeral of his brother Fuad, but he failed to show up.[59]

Jeffrey Goldberg suggested that Mughniyeh, representing Hezbollah in Lebanon, attended a high-level meeting between Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.[42]


The fire immediately after the car bomb went off

Imad Mughniyeh was killed on 12 February 2008 by a car bomb blast at around 23:00 in the Kafr Sousa neighborhood of Damascus, Syria.[12][13] According to The Sunday Times, Mughniyeh was at a reception marking the 29th anniversary of the Iranian Revolution hosted by the Iranian ambassador to Syria, Ahmad Musavi.[60] Mughniyeh left the party shortly after 22:30 and walked to his Mitsubishi Pajero.[61] The spare tyre had been replaced by one with a high explosive, which was detonated as Mughniyeh walked past.[11] The blast completely destroyed the car, left minimum damage on nearby buildings and killed only Mughniyeh.[61] A Syrian government investigation found that he was killed by a car bomb that was parked nearby and that was detonated remotely.[62]

Israel officially denied being behind the killing,[13] but Mughniyeh reportedly had been a target of Mossad assassination attempts since the 1990s.[63] On 27 February 2008, The Jerusalem Post reported that Al-Quds Al-Arabi had written that anonymous "Syrian sources" had claimed that "several Arab nations conspired with Mossad" in the assassination of Mughniyeh.[64]

The U.S. Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell has suggested that it was also possible that Syrian intelligence was responsible for the killing.[65] Ba'athist dissident and former Vice President Abdul Halim Khaddam stated in 2008 that Syrian intelligence orchestrated the killing of Mughniyeh under orders from the Assad regime.[66] According to Khaddam, Assad's removal of Assef Shawkat as Syria's intelligence chief was due to Shawkat's investigation claiming that an explosion "had taken place inside the car" which went against official line toed by Assad, which was that the death was caused due to "the explosion of a gas tank". Without naming a source, the German newspaper Die Welt wrote that a story had been circulated amongst German diplomatic staff that it was possible that associates of late Assef Shawkat had assassinated Mughniyeh.[67][68] This would have been in revenge for Mughniyeh tipping off Syrian President Bashar al-Assad regarding a coup plotted against him, which the Syrian government had foiled a couple of days before his assassination. Releasing the story in advance of going to print, Die Welt said the Syrian embassy in Berlin had rejected the coup story as utterly untrue. Lebanese politicians Walid Jumblatt and Saad Hariri as well as Mughniyeh's Iranian widow also accused Syrian officials.[19] His widow, after returning to Iran from Damascus, stated "This is why the Syrian regime has refused the help of Iran and Hizbollah in the investigation of the murder... The Syrian traitors assisted in my husband’s murder."[19] However, later she denied her statements.[19] According to a leaked US official report, top Syrian officials were stunned by the assassination of Mughniyeh and engaged in an internecine struggle to blame each other for the breach of security that resulted in Mughniyeh's death.[69]

The Kuwaiti newspaper Al Rai reported that Hezbollah intelligence sources said they would retaliate for Mughniyeh's death by assassinating Israeli leaders.[70]

Newsweek reported that in 2007 Mossad's director general, Meir Dagan, tipped the CIA off about the location of Mughniyeh in Kafr Sousa, Damascus.[71] The two Mossad agents had the roles of monitoring his movements and confirming Mughniyeh's identity using advanced facial recognition technology, while the CIA officer later detonated the bomb.[11][72]


Mughniyeh's body was taken to Beirut and buried in Rawdat al-Shahidain Cemetery. A funeral was organized by Hezbollah on 14 February.[73] Senior Iranian officials attended the service; Ali Akbar Velayati representing the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki representing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.[74] At the funeral, Hassan Nasrallah appeared via video link and in the eulogy delivered for his fallen comrade, declared: "You crossed the borders. Zionists, if you want an open war, let it be an open war anywhere."[15][75] Lebanese senior cleric Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah said that "the resistance has lost one of its pillars."[76] Iran condemned the killing as "yet another brazen example of organised state terrorism by the Zionist regime" (Israel).[77] A symbolic tomb was erected for Mughniyeh in the Behesht-e-Zahra cemetery of Tehran.[74] Later the Iranian government named a street in Tehran after Imad Mughniyeh as well.[78]

The assassination of Mughniyeh was condemned in some parts of the world. Then Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema termed the assassination "terror" in an interview,[79] while Gideon Levy of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz claimed the assassination actually undermined Israel's security.[80]

The Bush administration welcomed news of Mugniyeh's death. A spokesman of the U.S. State Department said: "The world is a better place without this man in it. He was a coldblooded killer, a mass murderer and a terrorist responsible for countless innocent lives lost. One way or another he was brought to justice."[81] Danny Yatom, former head of the Israeli Mossad said: "He was one of the most dangerous terrorists ever on Earth."[82]

On the 10th anniversary of Mugniyeh's killing, Major General Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, described Mugniyeh as "the legend of our time," grief caused by whose loss was only second to that of Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Soleimani stressed that "the enemy must recognize that avenging Mughniyah's death won't be fulfilled by launching a missile or killing someone in response, but bloods like these will be only avenged by full destruction of the Zionist regime" which he said was "a definite Divine promise."[35] Years later, Soleimani himself was assassinated in a targeted U.S. drone strike in January 2020 in Baghdad.[83]

See also


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