Hunting The Faceless Man

While the U.S. effort to get support for a coalition against terrorism went on, a rumor was running last week about a list of 27 Lebanese wanted by the FBI that might have been sent lately to Beirut. Among those persons suspected of having links to Al-Qaida, we find Imad Mughniyah, Abu Mohjen (Ahmed Abd al-Karim al-Saadi), Bassam Ahmad Kanj (alias Abu A’isha), Munir Maqdah…etc.

A few days after the September 11 attacks on America, an article of Jane’s Security, reported that Imad Mughniyah, head of the special overseas operations for Hizbullah, could have been the brain behind the attacks, along with the Egyptian Ayman Al Zawahiri, and possibly the logistical and financial support of the Iraqi Intelligence Service (SSO). The report did not hide that its main source of information was Aman, Israeli military intelligence service.

However, different rumors run about Mughniyah on whose head the Americans have put a $2million reward. First, he is said to have undergone extensive plastic surgery that has altered his appearance.

If this rumor reveals to be true, he is not to be caught next week; and if his identity remains hidden, he could be anywhere. So, why look after him in Lebanon?

According to the Jane’s report, in March 1984 Mughniyah kidnapped the head of the CIA station in Beirut, William Buckley, which triggered what later became known as ‘Irangate’, when the Americans tried to exchange Buckley (and others) with arms for Iran. A year later, a combined CIA/Mossad operation killed seventy-five people, when a car bomb exploded at the entrance of the house of Hizbullah spiritual leader, Sheik Mohammed Hussein Fathlallah. Among the victims, was the brother of Mughniyah.

Other sources mention Mughniyah as operating on behalf of Iranian intelligence, and as responsible of the suicide bombing attacks on the US embassy and the Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983. In addition, he is said to have masterminded the 1985 hijacking of a TWA airliner to Beirut and the bombing of the Israeli embassy in Argentina.

Some reports say that Mughniyah continued to operate several training camps in the Beqaa valley- controlled by the Syrians – though he is believed to reside in Iran most of the time.

Last year, one of Bin Laden’s top aides who was indicted for involvement in the 1998 bombings of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, Ali A. Mohamed, testified before a Manhattan court that

he had been in charge of making security arrangements for a meeting between Bin Laden and Mughniyah in Sudan during the early 1990s to discuss ways of opposing American hegemony in the Middle East.

In June 1996, it is said also that Iran’s Ministry of Information and Security hosted a meeting in Teheran that included Mughniyah and a senior aide to Bin Laden. Since then, operatives from both groups met several times. However, so far these rumors have not been confirmed, neither have been others about several secret trips to Germany in recent years, allegedly made by Mughniyah, suggesting that he may have met with perpetrators of the September 11 attacks.

It is not easy to make evidence about such “information”, because much of it could be manipulated by the Israeli intelligence for which the opportunity of hitting two birds with a single stone is too attractive not to seize. An example is quite significant: it is reported that prior to the establishment of Hizbullah in the early 1980s, Mughniyah served as one of Yasser Arafat’s bodyguards. Although only Arafat’s services could deny or confirm this rumor, it is not really of much importance for the current investigations. However, it is obvious that the Israelis are interested in mixing up the past and the present, the false and the truth, the dark and the clear, in order to direct suspicion towards the Palestinians and thus to discredit Arafat as a man of peace in the eyes of millions of Americans.

Thus, if some kind of link could be found between Mughniyah and Arafat himself, – were it even a phantasm! – it is undoubtedly helpful to Sharon.

Meanwhile, the hunt for Mughniyah sounds like the hunt for George Orwell’s Invisible Man!

Hichem Karoui is a writer and journalist living in Paris, France.

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