Syria confirmed for the first time Wednesday night that the Number 2 leader of the Hizbullah terrorist organization, 45-year-old Imad Mughniyeh, was killed late Tuesday in a car bombing in Damascus and placed the blame squarely on Israel's shoulders after an initial statement in which it refrained from assigning responsibility for the hit.
The state-run SANA news agency quoted Syrian Interior Minister Brig.-Gen. Bassam Abdul-Majid as saying "The ongoing investigation into the car bombing in the residential Kfar Sousse neighborhood last night has proven that it targeted Lebanese combatant Imad Mughniyeh. Syria condemns this cowardly terrorist act," he added.
Hizbullah immediately blamed Israel, with the terrorist group's spiritual leader, Sheikh Hussein Fadlallah, adding that "with Mughniyeh's killing, the jihad (holy war -ed.) has lost one of the pillars in the fight against its enemies."
An unnamed senior Syrian source said Mughniyeh was a target for both American and Israeli intelligence, but said that Defense Minister Ehud Barak "tends toward this kind of quality operation against resistance leaders... and wants to boost the morale of the Israeli army after the loss it suffered in the Lebanon War... and revive the military establishment's deterrent ability."
Israel officially denied involvement in the assassination.
Iran strongly condemned the killing and pointed its finger directly at Jerusalem. "This action is a clear result and example of organized state terrorism by the Zionist regime," said Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Muhammed Ali Hosseini, according to the state-run news agency IRNA. He also called on the international community to "prevent the Zionist regime from taking these actions that are a clear violation of international law," and praised the arch-terrorist, calling him "a golden page in the history of mankind's fight against the aggressive and occupying Zionists."
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) vowed to attack Israel's leaders in retaliation for the assassination. In a statement issued Wednesday, the organization threatened, "The Zionist murderers and the collaborators... must know that the hand of the resistance and its people will respond with bullets and murderous explosives [at the] heads, throats and chests of the leaders and heads of the Zionist terror and its collaborators."
Washington welcomed Mughniyeh's killing. US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack denied knowlege of who was responsible for his death, but added, "The world is a better place without this man in it. He was a cold-blooded killer, a mass murderer and a terrorist responsible for countless innocent lives lost. One way or another, he was brought to justice."
Mughniyeh, considered to be the mastermind behind most, if not all of Hizbullah’s terror attacks, lived in hiding for years and was able to evade the public eye until the bombing, executed with surgical precision. Other than some shattered windows in the residential neighborhood in which the attack took place, no buildings were damaged.
An unconfirmed report by Iranian sources said Hajj Hussein Halil, politburo director and deputy to Hizbullah chief terrorist Hassan Nasrallah, also was killed. Hizbullah did not comment on the report.
Mughniyeh was involved in numerous terror attacks on Israel's border with Lebanon, including the kidnapping of IDF soldiers Benny Avraham, Adi Avitan and Omar Souad. He was also apparently behind the abduction of IDF reservists Elad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser in July 2006, the cross-border raid that ignited the Second lebanon War.
He was indicted in the US for the 1985 hijacking of TWA flight 847, in which the airliner’s passengers were held hostage for six days at the Beirut airport. The Hizbullah terrorists severely beat US Navy diver Robert Stethem, a passenger on the June 24 flight, before killing him and dumping his body onto the tarmac.
The dead terrorist was on the US government’s Most Wanted List, with the American government offering millions of dollars for information leading to his arrest and/or capture for having organized an attack on a US Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983. The October 23 car bombing killed 241 American military personnel who were stationed in Beirut as part of a peace-keeping force.
Mughniyeh was also behind the 1994 attack on the Jewish-Argentine Mutual Association (AMIA) Community Center in Buenos Aires. Eighty-five people were murdered and 300 others were wounded in the attack.
“He has been the target of the Zionists for 20 years,” the Hizbullah terrorist organization said in a statement to the media that claimed Mughniyeh “became a martyr at the hands of the Zionist Israelis.”
He was also Hizbullah's main liaison with the terrorist group's main patron, Iran. The Islamic Republic provides massive support in the form of funding, equipment, weaponry and terrorist training to the group, as does Syria. Both countries have remained silent on the assassination.
The bombing is also likely to cause further upheavel in the current political crisis in Lebanon, which has been wracked by conflict between pro- and anti-Syrian forces. Anti-Syrian parties have fought off attempts by Hizbullah to increase its power in the Lebanese Cabinet. The impasse has forced a delay in Lebanon's presidential elections by several months.