Killed Hezbollah man revered in hometown
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
By SCHEHEREZADE FARAMARZI,
Associated Press Writer
Decades of eluding U.S. and Israeli intelligence won Imad Mughniyeh a mythic
stature in his home village, where even his family knew little of what the
secretive Hezbollah commander was doing.
After his death in a Damascus car bombing last week, his poster hangs on
every lamppost and building corner here.
"My feelings toward him were the same as a fan's for a celebrity, wanting to
get his autograph," said Zaynab, 25, one of Mughniyeh's two sisters.
Mughniyeh, who helped set up the Shiite Hezbollah guerrilla group, was one
of the world's most feared terror masterminds, accused by the West of
killing hundreds in suicide bombings and hijackings in Lebanon and around
He dropped out of sight some 15 years ago — few outside his inner circle
knew where he was or even what he looked like — until Feb. 12, when a car
bomb killed the 45-year-old in the Syrian capital.
But in this Lebanese village, surrounded by hills lush with orange groves
and wild flowers, the mystery surrounding Mughniyeh — known to his
supporters by his nom de guerre of Hajj Radwan — only burnished his image as
a warrior against Israel and its ally, the United States.
"To us, he's holy, a great leader," said 18-year-old Hasan Karam. "When we
were growing up we kept hearing about Hajj Radwan, the hero fighting Israeli
occupation. We used to hear Israel was after him and that he liberated our
lands. But I never met him or knew what he looked like. We didn't even know
— until now — that Hajj Radwan was the same person as Imad Mughniyeh."
Now there's no escaping his image here. A recent photo of Mughniyeh —
stocky, wearing military garb, with a thick gray and black beard — is hung
everywhere in his home village of Tayr Debba, nestled in Hezbollah's
heartland of mainly Shiite south Lebanon.
Over the weekend, thousands came to mourn his death and pay respects to his
"He was like a ghost in hiding," said Badie Zaydan, 52, a high school
teacher in the village.
"The success of the resistance is in its secrecy, even from family members,"
said fellow teacher Yousef Haidar, 42, referring to Hezbollah, the
well-armed and tight-knit guerrilla force backed by Iran.
Even Mughniyeh's mother rarely saw him since 1982, when at the age of 19 he
quit his business administration studies at the American University of
Beirut to help set up Hezbollah after Israel's invasion of Lebanon that
"I encouraged him," his 69-year-old mother said as she received hundreds of
mourners. Mughniyeh's wife, who refused to talk to reporters, sat next to
her, her eyes red and swollen from crying. They had three children, two boys
and a girl.
It was the brief earlier 1978 invasion by Israel — when Mughniyeh was 15 —
that first planted the seeds of armed action in Mughniyeh's mind, said his
mother, who refused to give her first name and goes as Umm Imad, or mother
"That's when he decided to carry the gun and fight Israel," she said.
His mother said she knows little of what he was doing in recent years,
though she said he "lived for a period in Iran." Over the past 15 years,
Mughniyeh is believed to have secretly moved between Lebanon, Iran and
Syria. Unconfirmed reports were widespread that he had undergone plastic
surgery to change his appearance and avoid capture.
Hezbollah and Iran have accused Israel of killing Mughniyeh, and Hezbollah
leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah vowed in a eulogy for the slain militant that
his group would retaliate against Israeli interests anywhere in the world.
Israel has denied any role in the killing.
Eliezer Tsafrir, who was station chief of the Israeli intelligence in
Lebanon in 1983 when Israel occupied the country, said in an interview with
The Associated Press in Israel that Mughniyeh's killing would have been an
extremely complex operation, requiring years of intelligence work. It is
not, he said a "simple task in the middle of a hostile capital."
Syria has not said who it believes was behind the blast.
Western and Israeli intelligence accuse Mughniyeh of involvement in suicide
bombings in the 1980s in Beirut that killed hundreds of American and French
troops, as well as the 1985 hijacking of a TWA airliner in which a U.S. Navy
diver was killed, and bombings in the 1990s against the Israeli Embassy and
a Jewish cultural center in Argentina that killed over 100 people.
Mughniyeh's relatives deny his role in any of those attacks.
"My son is not a terrorist," his mother said. "These are silly allegations
... My son is a fighter."
Mughniyeh's two brothers, Jihad and Fuad, were killed in car bomb explosions
in Beirut in the 1980s and 1990s.
The only time villagers saw Mughniyeh after some 20 years of absence was in
2002, when he attend his uncle's funeral.
"He comforted me saying my father's passing was God's will," said Mahmoud
Mughniyeh, 45, a cousin. He said he couldn't tell whether his fugitive
relative had plastic surgery because he hadn't seen him since the early
Huge black banners cover the outside walls of the Mughniyeh family house, a
one-story building at the end of a green field overlooking a valley that
stretches to the Mediterranean.
"You will continue to haunt them ... you will be victorious," one banner
says. "We shall not cry for you Hajj Imad, but we will resist," says