Middle East

Student tells of role in Mughniyeh assassination

BEIRUT: A Jordanian-Palestinian philosophy major appeared on Syrian TV over the weekend and claimed to have provided Israel with information that led to the 2008 assassination of a top Hezbollah commander.

A man identifying himself as Iyad Yousef An-Naim said he had been recruited and trained by Israel’s Mossad and had given the organization details on the whereabouts of Imad Mughniyeh shortly before his death on Feb. 12 three years ago.

Dual-nationality Naim claimed he had been kidnapped by Israeli operatives and forced to spy on an area of north Damascus that contained the Iranian Embassy. He said he was assigned to investigate a side street in the Syrian capital in an attempt to locate non-Syrian political groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah.

The 35-year-old said he had been in constant contact with an Israeli handler in the days leading up to the car bomb attack that killed Mughniyeh. After initially failing to identify several targets, one of which was a silver 4x4 Nissan Pajero, Naim alleged that he was forced to carry on with the search.

“[The handler] told me to continue my search for a balcony with a red-tile roof and a silver Pajero. I looked and looked but could not find either,” Naim told the TV station. “However, before I got to the main street a silver Pajero entered [the side street] and behind it [was] a Mercedes. I took the number down and gave it to [the handler].”

Naim, who studied philosophy at Syria’s Tishreen University, said he was recruited by Mossad after meeting a man, Mohammad, at his sister’s wedding in 2005. He and Mohammad discussed aviation, before the topic of conversation turned to rocket building. Naim claimed Mohammad had explained he was a member of Islamic Jihad, before introducing him to another man, named Abdullah.

Naim said he had agreed to travel with the two men to find a place for him to work on plans. He was invited to take a ride with them.

“I wasn’t very concerned by this because as I had placed my trust in them. So I was reviewing my books. After a while and as we arrived at a particular area, I was surprised to find that we were ambushed by Israeli soldiers,” Naim said. “They arrested us, took my books and stuff and took us to prison. Of course I was separated from the other [men] and I no longer saw them.

“[The soldiers] made me sign an agreement to work with them that said something like ‘either you work for us or you will get sent to prison.’ I felt myself cornered from all sides and I was forced to work with them,” the student added.

Naim claimed he was briefed by Mossad operatives in Hebron and Jerusalem before being made to return to his base of Latakia, Syria, via Jordan. During close communication by phone with his Israeli handler, Naim claimed that he was then tasked with making regular reconnaissance trips to the Syrian capital.

“I was asked to look into consulates, embassies, Hezbollah, Hamas or anything not Syrian. I looked in the area. I stayed for about an hour and half and couldn’t find anything that [the handler] asked me to find. I went back to Latakia and called him and told him I did not have information about what he asked me for. He called me on Feb. 5 and asked me to head back to Damascus and to do a wider search,” Naim said.

Naim claimed he returned two further times to the same area before providing information to his handler over the car in question.

“He told me to go back and check, see where they park and where they go. Here I refused. I said no, I am finished, I have been here for two hours, and I have visited the street twice, my situation is precarious,” Naim added.

He said he returned to Latakia and had only realized that the car was carrying Mughniyeh when he watched footage of the assassination’s aftermath on television.

Hezbollah has long held that the killing was the work of Israel and has vowed retaliation.

A spokesperson for the party was unavailable for comment Sunday.

Mughniyeh, who was the organization’s senior military commander, was implicated in the 1983 bombings of the U.S. Embassy and Marine Barracks in Beirut, as well as an attack on France’s peacekeeping headquarters, which killed more than 350 people. In addition, he was accused of orchestrating the kidnapping of several Westerners in Lebanon in the 1980s.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 19, 2011, on page 2.

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