Irans president recruits terror master
23 Apr 2006
The Sunday Times
Plot for revenge attacks on West
Sarah Baxter, Washington and Uzi Mahnaimi, Tel Aviv
president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, attended a meeting in Syria earlier this
year with one of the worlds most wanted terrorists, according to
intelligence experts and a former national security official in
US officials and Israel intelligence sources believe Imad Mugniyeh, the
Lebanese commander of Hezbollahs overseas operations, has taken charge of
plotting Irans retaliation against western targets should President George
W Bush order a strike on Iranian nuclear sites.
Mugniyeh is on the FBIs Most Wanted Terrorists list for his role in a
series of high-profile attacks against the West, including the 1985
hijacking of a TWA jet and murder of one of its passengers, a US navy
Now in his mid-forties, Mugniyeh is reported to have travelled with
Ahmadinejad in January this year from Tehran to Damascus, where the
Iranian president met leaders of Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and Hamas.
The meeting has been dubbed a terror summit because of the presence of so
many groups behind attacks on Israel, which Ahmadinejad has threatened to
wipe from the map.
Janes Intelligence Review cited reports in recent weeks of Mugniyehs
presence alongside the president.
Michael Ledeen, a Middle East expert and former Pentagon and National
Security Council official who wrote that Mugniyeh had probably been there,
said last week senior American officials had confirmed it.
Its hard to identify Mugniyeh because he is said to have changed his face
and his fingerprints, Ledeen said. But senior government officials have
told me I was right. He was there.
Shortly after the Damascus summit Henry Crumpton, head of
counter-terrorism at the state department, singled out the elusive
Mugniyeh as a threat. The Iranians, Crumpton said, have complete command
and control of Hezbollah. Imad Mugniyeh works for Tehran. And you cant
talk about Hezbollah and not think about Iran. They really are part and
parcel of the same problem.
Mugniyeh lives in Iran and has evaded capture for more than 20 years,
despite a $5m American bounty on his head. Western intelligence reports
claim he has many connections to terrorist cells in Europe, Africa, Latin
America and the US and he is said to have met Osama Bin Laden.
When and if the Iranians decide to hit the West in its soft belly, Imad
will be the one to act, a western intelligence source said last week.
An Israeli defence source claimed Mugniyeh was in regular touch with the
new Iranian intelligence minister, Gholamhossein Mohseni Ezhei. The
minister is a long-time confidant of Ahmadinejad and was appointed by him.
We know that Mohseni Ezhei holds routine meetings with Mugniyeh, who is
today Irans head of overseas operations, said the Israeli defence source.
Since we know from previous Iranian terror attacks that it takes about a
year to plan a substantial one, we should not be surprised if operations
against western targets are already in high gear and Mugniyeh is certainly
playing a major role.
The young Mugniyeh first attracted the attention of the West when he was
involved in the kidnapping, torture and mutilation of William Buckley, the
CIA station chief in Beirut, in 1984. He kept his victim at the Sheikh
Abdullah camp in the Lebanese Bekaa valley and was allegedly the last
person Buckley saw before he died.
Imad had good reason to retaliate, said a well-informed source. A car bomb
killed his brother Jihad, who had taken Imads old job as bodyguard to
Hezbollahs spiritual leader. Mugniyeh blamed the CIA, and Buckley was
chosen to pay the price.
The kidnapping led to the Iran-contra affair, one of the most embarrassing
episodes of the Reagan presidency, in which arms were swapped for hostages.
But by the time the Americans were negotiating with the Iranians, Buckley
was already dead.
Mugniyeh has also been linked to the demolition of the American embassy
and marine barracks in Beirut in 1983 and is wanted in Argentina for his
role in recruiting the bombers of the Israeli embassy and Jewish centre in
Buenos Aires in the early 1990s.
Mugniyeh left Lebanon for Iran in 1994 with his wife and son after an
assassination attempt. He is since believed to have played an active role
in fomenting trouble in Iraq. Ledeen described him last week as the spinal
column of the terror war against America in Iraq from the beginning.
According to Robert Baer, a former CIA agent who pursued Mugniyeh in the
1980s, he is the most dangerous terrorist we have ever faced. Mugniyeh is
probably the most intelligent, most capable operative we have ever run
across, including the KGB or anybody else.
He enters by one door, exits by another, changes his cars daily, never
makes appointments by telephone he is never predictable. He is the master
terrorist, the grail we have been after since 1983.
Elite Iranian army officers who arrived in south Lebanon this month have
taken command of thousands of rockets aimed at cities across Israel. They
are believed to have been given control of the missiles by Hezbollah to
deter possible Israeli attacks against Irans nuclear facilities.