Imad Mughniyeh, the head of Hezbollah's Jihad Council, was the elusive mastermind behind some of the most devastating terrorist acts of the last 30 years. He might also be the "the most dangerous man you never heard of," writes Mark Perry in the latest issue of Foreign Policy. Mughniyeh was linked to attacks from Beirut to Buenos Aires and remained under the radar until his death in a Damascus car bomb in 2008. But although Mughniyeh's name might not be familiar -- Hezbollah would deny his existence until his death -- the attacks and kidnappings he orchestrated resonate decades later.
In his article, Perry examines Mughniyeh's life and mysterious death. "[H]is whole career [is] proof that one person really can reshape politics in the Middle East -- and far beyond it," he writes. Here, we've collected photographs of Mughniyeh's more infamous attacks, which not only impacted the political dynamics of the region but changed the world's understanding of terrorism.
Above, a French soldier surveys the damage after the bombing of the French barracks in Beirut on Oct. 23, 1983. The attack on the eight-story barracks occurred two minutes after the bombing of the U.S. Marine Barracks, leaving 58 dead and 15 injured in the single worst military loss for France since the end of the Algerian War.
Bombing of the U.S. Marine Barracks, Beirut
On Oct. 23, 1983, just after 6 a.m., a yellow Mercedes truck packed with explosives charged into the U.S. Marine barracks in southern Beirut. The force of the blast lifted the four-story building from its foundation, crushing most of the occupants and killing 241 service members. All that remained was an eight-foot-deep crater. It was the single bloodiest day for the U.S. Marine Corps since Iwo Jima.
The explosion was part of a simultaneous attack on U.S. and French troops that were serving as part of the multinational force attempting to maintain security in the Lebanese capital during the civil war. In doing so, however, U.S. forces ended up implicitly supporting the pro-Israeli Lebanese government, alienating the country's Shiite and Druze populations.
Islamic Jihad -- a group under Mughniyeh's leadership that would eventually become part of Hezbollah -- claimed responsibility for the attack. Two years later, Mughniyeh was secretly indicted by a U.S. grand jury in absentia for having ordered the attacks.
Less than two months after the bombings in Beirut, Islamic Jihad struck again. In a coordinated attack against seven key locations in Kuwait on Dec. 12, 1983, it hit two embassies, a petro-chemical plant, and the airport. Despite the scale of the attacks, due to faulty engineering, the bombs caused far less devastation than intended, resulting in the deaths of only six people.
In the aftermath of the attacks, Mustafa Youssef Badreddin, Mughniyeh's brother-in-law, was imprisoned along with 16 others. The group became known as "the Kuwait 17," and Hezbollah would regularly demand their release in hostage negotiations in subsequent years.
Above: A Kuwaiti man picks up debris outside the U.S. embassy.
Kidnapping of CIA officer William F. Buckley
Beginning around 1983 and lasting through the decade, almost 100 foreign nationals were taken against their will in Lebanon -- and Mughniyeh was behind some of the most high-profile kidnappings. The hostage-taking may have originated as a means to prevent the United States from retaliating for the 1983 U.S. Marine Barracks bombing, but hostages were also used to extract political and financial concessions from the United States and Israel.
Buckley was kidnapped on the morning of March 16, 1984, when leaving his Beirut apartment to go to work. As the CIA's station chief in Beirut since 1983, he had been a target of Islamic Jihad since the group discovered his presence in the country, and he remained one of the most high-profile hostages to be taken by the group during its spate of kidnappings in the 1980s.
Buckley's kidnapping reverberated through the U.S. intelligence community, as the CIA sought -- and spent a "small fortune" -- in failed attempts to retrieve him. He is believed to have been severely tortured for information while captive -- a statement released by Islamic Jihad claimed the group had amassed "volumes written with (Buckley's) own hand and recorded on videotapes."
The above photograph of Buckley was distributed by Islamic Jihad, along with a two-page typed communiqué announcing his execution on Oct. 4, 1985. He is believed to have died four months earlier, in June 1985, while in captivity.
Kidnapping of journalist Terry Anderson
Terry Anderson, the chief Middle East correspondent for the Associated Press, was kidnapped at gunpoint from the streets of Beirut after finishing a tennis game on March 16, 1985. Released on Dec. 4, 1991, six years and nine months later, he was both the longest-held and most notable hostage of this period. In his profile of Mughniyeh for Foreign Policy, Perry notes that Anderson is the only American who admits to having met Mughniyeh. Returning to Lebanon for the first time in 1996, Anderson would note, "The irony is that in the five years since I was released, the hostage-takers have become heroes."
Above, a photograph of Terry Anderson that was released by his captors.
Hijacking of TWA Flight 847
The whole world was watching when a Boeing 727 en route from Athens to Rome was hijacked shortly after takeoff on June 14, 1985. Viewers were gripped with suspense as TWA Flight 847, which had been commandeered by two armed men who were later joined in Beirut by a dozen additional hijackers, "zigzagged around the Mediterranean" for two days. The plane shuttled back and forth between Beirut and Algiers, as the hijackers made increasingly grave threats about what they would do unless the world gave into their list of demands -- which covered everything from fuel to bananas to the release of 700 Shiite prisoners in Israel.
Most of the passengers were released during the two days of back-and-forth flights and negotiations. But one passenger -- U.S. Navy Diver Robert Stetham -- was murdered, his body thrown from the aircraft during the second stop in Beirut. By the plane's third and final stop in Beirut on June 16, the only passengers yet to be released were 32 American citizens, who were taken off the aircraft and held hostage for another two weeks in Beirut. Mughniyeh was believed to be responsible, and later indicted for the hijacking. Upon his death in 2008, CNN called the takeover of Flight 847 "the one careless move that the man in the shadows made. Mughniyeh reportedly left a fingerprint on the plane, gaining him a place on the FBI's most wanted terrorist list with a $5 million bounty on his head."
Above, one of two heavily armed Lebanese Shiite militants, his face hidden with a bag, at Beirut's airport.
Kidnapping of Col. William Higgins
William R. Higgins, a U.S. Marine serving as the chief of a United Nations observer group in southern Lebanon, was pulled from his car by armed men while driving alone on Lebanon's coastal highway on Feb. 17, 1988.
A year and a half later, a video surfaced of Higgins's lifeless body hanging from a rope, having been badly beaten. Perry writes "[t]he Higgins kidnapping, for which CIA professionals continue to hold Mughniyeh responsible, proved an even greater insult, particularly after U.S. officials received a videotape of his torture. The video, delivered to the Americans, reflected a graphic exercise in animalistic vengeance. 'Unforgettable,' as one former intelligence officer who saw it says. But the message was also ruthlessly clinical: Top this."
Bombing of Israeli Embassy in Argentina
On the afternoon of March 17, 1992, a suicide bomber drove a truck loaded with explosives into the Israeli embassy in the heart of Buenos Aires. The embassy and a neighboring church and school were destroyed, leaving 26 people dead and hundreds injured. Islamic Jihad was quick to claim responsibility, releasing a statement that read, "Our open battle with the criminal Zionist enemy requires our continuous presence in the battlegrounds of holy war and confrontation."
Subsequent investigations into the incident have yielded little clarity. In 1999, the Argentine government put out a warrant for Mughniyeh's arrest -- linking him to both the embassy attack and the subsequent bombing of a Jewish center in Buenos Aires. In 2003, an Argentine judge indicted four Iranian officials, accusing Tehran of complicity with Hezbollah in both attacks.
Bombing of Jewish center in Buenos Aires
The bombing of the AMIA (Argentine Jewish Mutual Association) building in Buenos Aires on the morning of July 18, 1994 supplanted the 1992 attack as the deadliest terrorist attack the country had ever seen. Eighty-five people were killed and over 300 wounded when a truck packed with over 600 pounds of ammonium nitrate fertilizer and fuel oil detonated in a densely built part of the city.
Though Mughniyeh has been connected to both Buenos Aires attacks, responsibility for the AMIA bombing remains a subject of debate. Many Argentines believe Tehran was behind the attack, financing an operation that Hezbollah carried out. Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman went so far as to indict former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani for the crime. In 2013, Iran and Argentina announced a joint diplomatic commission to investigate the origin of the attack, leading to anger among Israeli officials and tension between Tel Aviv and Buenos Aires.
Above, firemen search as the wounded walk amid the debris.
Capture of three Israeli soldiers on Lebanese-Israeli border
In October 2000, Hezbollah attacked an Israeli military post, kidnapping three soldiers -- Adi Avitan, Benny Avraham, and Omar Suwaid -- who were all subsequently killed in captivity. An Israeli businessman, Elhanan Tannenbaum, who was kidnapped later that month, was kept alive. Mughniyeh was allegedly involved in both attacks.
In a 2004 German-brokered agreement, Israel released over 400 Arab prisoners and 59 bodies in exchange for Tannenbaum and the bodies of the three soldiers.
Above, a picture of the three captured soldiers hangs at Omar Suwaid's home as his sister Sara leaves her room in the northern Israeli Bedouin village of Salama on Jan. 26, 2004.
Capture of two Israeli soldiers
In 2006, Hezbollah's kidnapping of two soldiers along the Lebanese-Israeli border ignited a brief but fierce war between the Lebanese Islamist group and Israel. Between July 12 and Aug. 14, the conflict claimed the lives of more than 1,300 Lebanese and 165 Israelis. Both sides would claim victory after the August ceasefire and Hezbollah, emboldened by its success, would expand its grip on Lebanese domestic politics.
A U.S. intelligence official told CNN that Mughniyeh is thought to have engineered both the initial kidnapping, as well as Hezbollah's military strategy during the fighting that ensued. As the strategist behind Hezbollah's military operations, Mughniyeh was celebrated by the group for his role in the war -- but this also made him an even more prominent target for other parties. As Perry describes in Foreign Policy, Mughniyeh would begin to wear out his welcome in Damascus with the Syrians, as international pressure escalated following the 2006 war. When he was finally assassinated in Damascus in 2008, many in Hezbollah privately blamed Syria.
Above, an Israeli mobile artillery unit fires 155mm shells across the Israeli-Lebanese border into southern Lebanon on July 12, 2006, the same day that the two Israeli soldiers were captured.
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