Hezbollah Militant Accused of Plotting Attacks Killed

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One of the Middle East's most dangerous and mysterious figures — and one of America's most wanted men — has been killed.

Imad Mughniyeh, a key security commander of Hezbollah who is believed to have masterminded some of the deadliest attacks on Americans in Lebanon in the 1980s, died Tuesday night in a car bombing in Damascus, Syria.

From Lebanon to Saudi Arabia to Argentina, Mughniyeh's fingerprints were on suicide bombings, kidnappings and hijackings. No single figure is believed to be responsible for more American deaths in attacks overseas.

In Beirut, Hezbollah's TV station, Al-Manar, was the first to announce his death Wednesday morning.

"A great jihadist leader of the Islamic resistance in Lebanon has joined the caravan of faithful martyrs," the announcer said. "Hajj Imad Mughniyeh has died at the hands of the Zionist Israelis."

Israel denied it had killed Mughniyeh, but current and former Israeli officials made no effort Wednesday to hide their approval of the killing. The Israelis believe Mughniyeh planned the bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires in 1992 and another bombing of a Jewish cultural center there two years later. Those attacks left 115 dead.

Danny Yatom, a former head of Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service, said Mughniyeh had blood on his hands from numerous Hezbollah attacks in and outside of Lebanon.

"In the fight against terror today by the free and democratic world, I think the free and democratic world today achieved a very, very important goal," he said.

But Israel wasn't the only nation that wanted Mughniyeh dead, said Dan Byman, director of peace and security studies at Georgetown University and a member of the staff of the 9/11 Commission.

"The list of people who'd want to kill Mughniyeh is quite long," Byman said. "Certainly the Israelis are at or near the top of the list. And there are many reports that the United States in the past had tried to kill him in retaliation for his killing of so many Americans."

Mughniyeh is believed to have masterminded a suicide truck bombing attack in 1983 that targeted the barracks in Lebanon housing U.S. Marines. The attack killed 241 Marines, who were in Lebanon as peacekeepers, and another 58 French troops died in a second suicide truck bombing the same day.

Mughniyeh is also believed to have been responsible for the bombings of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, first in 1983 and then again in 1984, in which 72 people were killed, including the CIA's top Middle East expert. Mughniyeh is suspected of orchestrating the kidnapping and murder of the CIA's station chief in Lebanon, William Buckley, as well as dozens of other hostages.

In 1985, Mughniyeh is believed to have organized the hijacking of a TWA airliner, in which a U.S. Navy serviceman was killed. Mughniyeh was indicted in the United States for that operation.

"The world is a better place without this man in it," a State Department spokesman said Wednesday.

After the 1980s, Mughniyeh mostly dropped out of sight, but that didn't stop his activities for Hezbollah and also on behalf of Iran, Byman said.

"Mugniyeh had an exceptionally close relationship with Iran," he said. "He is believed to hold an Iranian passport, to be fluent in Farsi, and many people believe that he spent much of the last almost two decades in Iran either training people or simply hiding out because it was so unsafe for him in Lebanon because so many people wanted to kill him."

The bomb that killed Mughniyeh was placed under his parked car in an upscale neighborhood of Damascus. An Iranian school and offices of the Syrian intelligence service are nearby. It was friendly territory for Mughniyeh, which suggests that whoever planned his killing was capable of mounting sophisticated covert operations.

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