Imad Fayez Mugniyah (December 2, 1962 – February 12, 2008)
Imad Mugniyah’s story can only be pieced together from anonymously sourced media reports and western intelligence briefings. According to ex-CIA officer Robert Baer, quoted in the New Yorker in 2002, Mugniyah “erased himself” from the public record. The only known photos of the man are decades old, and he is rumored to have had plastic surgery to change his appearance. His last reported public appearance was his brother’s funeral in 1994.
Most accounts agree that he was born in South Lebanon in 1962 – some accounts say the town of Tair Debba – and joined up with the Palestinian Liberation Organization as a teenager, entering Force 17, former-PLO leader Yasser Arafat’s personal security detail. Reports also agree that, when the PLO was forced out of Lebanon in 1982, Mugniyah fell in with the nascent forces of Hezbollah. He reportedly first served as a bodyguard for Sheikh Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah, who was politically very close to Hezbollah at the time.
Beyond this basic and abridged biographical sketch, facts fade away amid an onslaught of unsourced allegations originating from Western and Israeli intelligence agencies. Mugniyah is said to have been behind virtually every major anti-Western terrorist attack in Lebanon during the 1980s. He is said to have masterminded the bombings of the US Embassy in Beirut, the bombing of the US Marine and French barracks in 1983, the 1985 hijacking of TWA Flight 847, and the kidnappings of westerners throughout the decade. Mugniyah was also supposedly involved, with his brother-in-law Mustafa Youssef Badreddin, in the attacks against the US and French embassies in Kuwait in December of 1983. Freeing Badreddin and fourteen others convicted in those bombings was ostensibly the motive behind the series of kidnappings in Lebanon.
Mugniyah is also said to be behind the 1992 attack on the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, as well as the 1994 bombing of the Jewish cultural center there. He is credited with establishing Hezbollah’s global terrorist cell network, and Israel claims that he was even behind the kidnapping operation that triggered the July War in 2006.
Mugniyah was recently rumored to be in charge of Hezbollah’s security apparatus, with the alleged role of chief of operations, security chief, director of intelligence, chief of international operations or overall commander of the organization’s armed wing. Hezbollah has denied that Mugniyah was officially a member, though they have admitted that there was a “relationship.” Hezbollah officials identified the body the morning of February 13, and the organization has taken charge of funeral arrangements to be held in its home base in the southern suburbs of Beirut on February 14.