A fascinating story and I urge every one to read the complete article. Real life is far more interesting then fiction. The Frederick Forsyth fictional character “Jackal” from the 1971 novel would have approved.
Imad Mughniyah pictured on an Interpol warrant
by Erol Araf
On the fifth anniversary of the assassination of Imad Mughniyah, a.k.a. “The Iranian Jackal,” much new information about the hunt for the terrorist most wanted by Mossad and the FBI has emerged. It’s a story of high-tech surveillance and old-fashioned espionage, and it’s just starting to be truly told now.
Imad Mughniyah was 20 years old when he made his debut on the international terrorist scene in 1983, with a series of spectacular and deadly bombings aimed at Western forces in Lebanon. The 1983 Beirut suicide bombings included those on April 18 at the U.S. Embassy (63 killed); on Oct. 23 at the U.S. Marine barracks (241 killed); and on Oct. 23 at the French paratrooper barracks (58 killed). A litany of bombings, hijackings, kidnappings and assassinations followed, with an ever-increasing body count. A list of the attacks he is believed to have been involved in, directly or in a leadership capacity, reads like an index of late-20th-century terrorism: Car bombings of the Israeli embassy and the Jewish cultural center in Argentina (124 killed) in the early 1990s; the World Trade Center bombing of 1993 (6 killed); the Khobar Towers suicide bombing in Saudi Arabia in 1996 (19 killed); the U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 (223 killed); the 2000 suicide attack on the USS Cole in Aden, Yemen (17 killed).
And perhaps even the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001. The 9/11 Commission Report references “a senior Hezbollah operative” shepherding the future hijackers in and out of Iran. Some terrorism experts believe this was almost certainly Mughniyah. Indeed, according to Peter Lance’s book Triple Cross, Osama bin Laden spoke admiringly of Mughniyah’s lethal handiwork and in 1993 met with him in Khartoum, Sudan, to form a working alliance. That historic meeting, according to Lance, was brokered by Ali Mohamed, bin Laden’s master spy and double agent inside the FBI. Kenneth R. Timmerman, in Countdown to Crisis, quotes Major General Amos Malka, a senior Israeli military intelligence official, saying that before Sept. 11, the Israelis had picked up on numerous signs that bin Laden and Mughniyah were planning new operations against Israel and the U.S. “within the next few weeks.”
Even after the Sept. 11 attacks, Western intelligence agencies continued to track Mughniyah with interest. According Ronen Bergman, author of The Secret War with Iran, in 2005 Mossad informed both the CIA and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service that Mughniyah had established a Hezbollah network in Montreal to “prepare for the execution of terrorist attacks should the U.S.A. strike at Iranian nuclear installations.” He surfaced again as the prime Hezbollah strategist in the 2006 Lebanon War. [........]He enters by one door, exits by another, changes his cars daily, never makes appointments on a telephone, never is predictable. He uses only people that are related to him that he can trust.”
Despite his prolific terrorism career and the keen interest in the West, it was not until June, 2007, that Mossad caught a break. The lead came from his birthplace, Tayr Dibba, a small town in south Lebanon, some 15 miles from Israel. It came from one of the operatives of the Ali al-Jarrah network, operated by Mossad. Al-Jarrah himself had been recruited while serving time in an Israeli prison, and his cousin Ziad Jarrah was the hijacker pilot of United Airlines Flight 93. [.......]All of this information he passed back to Israel, collecting perhaps as much as $500,000 for his services.
It was money well spent. A member of al- Jarrah’s network lived in the same village as some of Mughniyah’s family. The informer reported that the terrorist had been moving around major European cities to avoid detection, and that he had changed his appearance. He also had apparently been sending his family occasional postcards from the cities he was hiding in. It wasn’t much to go on, but Israel still sent in a special unit of undercover agents. Blending in with the locals, they worked to verify the intelligence and tap the phones of Mughniyah’s friends and relatives. [........]
Israel also paid particular attention to former East German Stasi agents who had maintained contacts with their Palestinian allies even after the fall of communism. When East Germany collapsed, many of its spies packed up whatever sensitive documents they could obtain and then vanished. [.......]Israel set about locating them and offering generous payments to anyone with useful information. Before long, a former Stasi agent reached out to a Mossad agent in Berlin: He had the Stasi file on Mughniyah, and it was available for a price. The meeting between Mossad representatives and the ex-Stasi spy took place at the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin. A large file containing Mougniyeh’s latest photographs was exchanged for a brief case containing $250,000. [......]
This was a major coup in the hunt for Mughniyah, but it required a further lucky break to give Israel the information it needed to bring Mughniyah down. As recounted by David Markovsky in his article “The Silent Strike,” published last fall in The New Yorker, in 2007, Israeli agents infiltrated the home of Ibrahim Othman, head of the Syrian Atomic Energy Commission. Once inside, they bugged his computer. While Israel had been looking for information about the Syrian nuclear weapons program (and indeed, in September of 2007, bombed a nascent nuclear reactor inside Syria), access to this computer allowed Israel to compromise other computers inside the supposedly secure networks of Syria’s rulers. Among the information obtained through this operation were details of weapons transfers from Syria to Mughniyah.
These Syrian files, the ex-Stasi documents and the intelligence trickling in from Mossad’s spies in Lebanon began to provide a detailed picture of Mughniyah’s recent locations and activities. Israel was getting closer, and in January of 2008 made a breakthrough — it developed intelligence indicating that Mughniyah was having an affair with a woman in Damascus, and would often spend time with her inside a luxury condo in the Syrian capital. [.......] It is believed that Mossad was able to get photos of Mughniyah as he came and went from this condo, and that they matched the Stasi files.
In early 2008, Mughniyah received an invitation to attend celebrations of the Iranian Revolution at the Iranian Cultural Centre and meet with his Syrian and Iranian contacts. [.......] Through means yet to be revealed (though perhaps related to Israel’s compromising of the Syrian computer networks), the Mossad found out about this meeting. This meant that they not only knew where he would be, and when, but also, in all likelihood, had up-to-date intelligence on what the target currently looked like.
The exact sequence of what happened next is still a secret. But enough is known, both about this operation and about Mossad’s modus operandi, to make some educated guesses. A team would be prepared, safe houses established and communications arranged. It’s believed that a squad consisting of four members was assigned to the operation. One member was charged with tracking the target while remaining in constant communication with command and the safe houses. Another member was responsible for arranging transportation and logistics inside Damascus. The third member was tasked with “cover” — monitoring potential and emerging threats to the operation and, if necessary, creating a diversion. The last member was the executioner.
Out of the safe houses, agents monitored the Iranian Cultural Centre and every place Mughniyah was believed likely to visit. The Damascus safe house had a large garage for wiring vehicles with remotely controlled explosives and altering their appearance, as well as installing mobile command, control and communication equipment. [......] Days before the assassination, Mossad obtained priority access to a recently launched Israeli satellite. State of the art, it was capable of feeding the strike team real-time intelligence 24 hours a day.
The strike team took up positions outside the Iranian Cultural Centre in Damascus, waiting for Mughniyah. At the same time, a few rented vehicles with remote controlled explosives placed inside headrests were parked, at intervals, along the street. Guests began to arrive at 7:30 p.m., with the Iranian ambassador himself arriving at 8. At 9 p.m., a silver Mitsubishi Pajero turned into the street and parked close to where two strike team members were waiting. [......] Then the passenger door opened and Imad Mughniyah emerged. He wore a dark suit and his beard had been neatly trimmed. He started to walk up the street, passing one of the cars the Israelis had planted there. It exploded, beheading Mughniyah.
By the time the bomb went off, most of the Israeli agents had already packed up and left. Their mission was accomplished. They shut down the safe houses, removed any incriminating evidence, and calmly left the country under false IDs, escaping before there was any reason for Syria to suspect their presence. The two agents who had been on the street with Mughniyah when the bomb exploded had a harder time getting out — with Syrian security on high alert, especially at the airports, the agents are reported to have crossed into Lebanon and then sailed out into the Mediterranean in inflatable boats, to be rescued by an Israeli submarine hiding beneath the waves.
The risky end to the mission, however, did little to obscure the obvious — it had been a complete success. [......] And, best of all, one of the most dangerous terrorists of our time had been killed, his body so thoroughly shattered that parts were found dozens of metres away from the bomb site.
“The world is a better place without this man in it,” U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack. “One way or the other he was brought to justice.” Indeed. The man who had lived by the car bomb, died by one, too.
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