Hezbollah international operations commander and top terrorism planner Imad Mugniyah was assassinated in Damascus, Syria, in February of 2008. A shaped explosive device, similar to a large Claymore mine, detonated as Mugniyah strolled past the vehicle in which it was hidden, “[separating] Mr. Mugniyah’s arms, legs, and head from the remainder of his torso, which was catapulted about 50 feet through a window,” according to an official who participated in the operational planning to kill the Hezbollah leader.
The details of the shadowy killing have remained murky for the past eight years, until recently, when articles in both the Washington Post and Newsweek for the first time provided an account of how the operation unfolded. Most had assumed that Israel was behind the assassination, possibly with the help of the CIA. They were just about right.
No government ever explicitly took credit for the killing, and it was not as newsworthy at the time as the assassination of al-Qaida leader Osama Bin Laden would be three years later. This was probably due to the fact that many years had passed since Mugniyah had carried out the majority of his most spectacular attacks on America and Israel. He was simply not as well known as the al-Qaida leader.
It was a big deal, though, and a stroke of cold-blooded vengeance against a man who had brought death to Americans and Israelis for years. It turns out, furthermore, according to the Post and Newsweek articles, that it was the CIA that took the lead in the operation, with the extensive assistance of Israeli Mossad.
Mugniyah deserved his fate. He was a ruthless terrorist, and had the blood of thousands on his hands. His terrorist acts included the bombing of the U.S. embassy in Beirut in 1983; the kidnapping and murder of CIA Station Chief William Buckley; the bombing of the French and American Marine barracks in Lebanon; the hijacking of TWA flight 847, in which a U.S. Navy diver was killed; the bombing of two Israeli and Jewish targets in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in the 1990s; and scores of other kidnappings and killings. Mugniyah was a cold-blooded killer.
According to the Newsweek and Washington Post articles, the Israeli Mossad brought the locational information on Mugniyah to the Americans in 2007, thinking that the U.S. government would want to act on it, given its history with Mugniyah. Then-director of the CIA, General Mike Hayden, took the information to President George W. Bush, who gave the go-ahead for the assassination operation. Israel would also play a key logistical role, going so far as to trigger the device from Tel Aviv.
CIA bomb technicians spent months building and testing various explosive devices in the United States, and operatives in Syria spent those same months tracking Mugniyah’s whereabouts and movements to determine the best location and time at which to carry out the attack. When all was said and done, and after receiving multiple approvals from an impatient President Bush—at the request of a hesitant Director Hayden—the CIA successfully executed the operation, and Mugniyah, on February 12th. The Hezbollah operative had just finished dinner at a nearby restaurant. It would be his last meal.
When discussing why the operational details have just now come to light, after remaining secret for almost 10 years, one CIA operative interviewed for the Newsweek article stated that the CIA’s role in Mugniyah’s killing should have been told long ago. “It sends the message that we will track you down, no matter how much time it takes,” he said. “The other side needs to know this.”
Yes they do, and yes, we will.
(Photo courtesy of AP/Bilal Hussein)