The ghosts of Beirut

Posted: April 25, 2023 by chrisharper in Uncategorized
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By Christopher Harper

When Showtime announced that it was releasing a miniseries about “the untold story of the greatest terrorist the world has never known,” it reminded me how 40 years ago this month, that man started to etch his name in blood in Beirut. See

At 21, Imad Mughniyeh (pronounced E-mod Moog-nee-yah) planned a suicide car bombing of the U.S. embassy in Beirut on April 18, 1973, that left 63 people dead, including 17 Americans. Among the dead were seven CIA officers, including the head of the CIA’s Near East Division.

The son of a poor farmer from South Lebanon, Mughniyeh joined the Palestine Liberation Organization as a teenager and eventually became a member of PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat’s security detail. As a Shiite Muslim and non-Palestinian, however, Mughniyeh eventually gravitated toward Lebanese politics and helped found Hezbollah, the powerful organization that basically runs Lebanon today.

An accomplished bombmaker, Mughniyeh worked with Syria, which provided logistical and operational support, and Iran, which funded his operations.

I spent several years of my journalistic career trying to track down Mughniyeh without success. But I did investigate many of his activities in the 1980s, which included the following:

–The truck bombings on October 23, 1983, against French paratroopers and the U.S Marines barracks in Beirut–attacks that killed 60 French soldiers and 241 Marines and sailors.

–The assassination of Malcolm Kerr, the president of American University, in Beirut in January 1984.

–The kidnappings of Westerners in Beirut in the 1980s, including journalist Terry Anderson, British negotiator Terry Waite, and CIA station chief William Buckley, whom Mughniyeh executed.

–The hijacking of TWA Flight 847 in June 1985 during which he executed a U.S. Navy diver and tossed his body on the tarmac of the Beirut airport.

–The 1992 bombings of the Israel embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina, which killed 29, and of a Jewish cultural center there in July 1994, killing 85 people.

–The Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia, which left 19 U.S. Air Force personnel dead in 1996.  

“Mughniyeh is probably the most intelligent, most capable operative we’ve ever run across, including the KGB or anybody else,” former CIA agent Robert Baer wrote. “He enters by one door, exits by another, changes his cars daily, never makes appointments on a telephone, never is predictable. He only uses people that are loyal to him that he can fully trust. He doesn’t just recruit people.”

Milton Bearden, another CIA man, said: “Both [Osama] bin Laden and Mughniyeh were pathological killers. But there was always a nagging amateurishness about bin Laden—his wildly hyped background, his bogus and false claims. … Bin Laden cowered and hid, and Mughniyeh spent his life giving us the finger.”

In a reported joint operation by the CIA and Mossad, Mughniyeh was killed on February 12, 2008, by a car bomb in Damascus, Syria.

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