Exclusive: The Final Hours of Imad Mughniyeh
Published Tuesday, February 19, 2013
An Al-Akhbar investigation into the 2008 assassination of Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus has turned up a detailed account of the operation.
Damascus – As soon as the July 2006 war ended, Hezbollah began the largest operation to date to restore its military organization and raise the level of its readiness and weaponry to face the possibility of new aggressions. Martyr Imad Mughniyeh was put in charge of developing and enhancing the military abilities of the Resistance in Lebanon.
This was in addition to his responsibility for implementing a decision made at the highest levels in Iran, Syria, and Lebanon to supply the Resistance in Lebanon with all the lessons and experiences of war, as well as oversee the creation of a bridge for logistical support, especially with the Gaza Strip.
Damascus was the main station for the task, which meant that Hajj Radwan had to intensify his travel to and from Syria.
At the time, Mughniyeh, much like many operatives in the Resistance, treated Syria as one of the safest places. There was a presumption, based on several facts, that Israel would not target Syria through direct operations. However, the history of assassination attempts against many resistance fighters in Hamas and other Palestinian factions demanded extra care from everyone, including leaders in the Lebanese Resistance.
Despite all of this, movement around Damascus was more flexible and less complicated on the level of implemented security precautions. Ultimately, the “implicit laxity” became an opening that allowed the Israeli enemy to assassinate Mughniyeh, who had been a constant target for surveillance and assassination attempts by Israeli and US intelligence services.
The Assassination Attempt
On the evening of 12 February 2008, Mughniyeh had just finished a meeting with some of the most senior Palestinian leaders in the Syrian capital of Damascus. They had discussed ways to develop the capacities of the Palestinian resistance inside Palestine, and Gaza in particular.
Around 10:15 pm, Mughniyeh left his apartment building in the Kfar Sousa neighborhood of Damascus. He came down alone and started to walk toward his car, which was parked in an area of about 800m2 that was used as a parking lot outside a cluster of buildings.
The explosion was heard around 10:20 pm. Some people rushed to the location, including those Mughniyeh was seeing in the apartment. It turned out that when Mughniyeh had stepped out of the building’s main gate, a 2006 silver Mitsubishi Pajero 4x4 parked nine meters away exploded, killing him alone, on the spot.
After several communications among its leadership, Hezbollah decided to immediately move Mughniyeh’s body to Beirut. His family was informed and his eulogy announced in preparation for a solemn funeral fit for a great martyr.
Despite prevailing tensions, a special unit travelled directly to the location of the explosions and began its investigations in parallel to those conducted by Syrian authorities. However, Hezbollah was absolutely certain that Israel was behind the crime.
In such a situation, the Resistance is used to examining all the crucial data, as the martyr himself would do, and its conclusions would often be correct. But the question remained: How did Israel manage to reach him?
The investigations showed that Mughniyeh visited Syria often and chose Kfar Sousa as his place of residence and work. He spent more time there than in Lebanon.
Extensive investigations revealed the role of Israel and its direct responsibility for the assassination. They showed that the Mossad, which was under the leadership of Meir Dagan at the time, was responsible for the operation from A to Z. Direct planning inside and outside Syria took almost one month after a much longer period of indirect preparations, according to sources knowledgeable of the case.
The investigations also revealed that the Mossad had charged some of its local operatives with capturing extensive images of Kfar Sousa, detailing every street and focusing on the block where the assassination took place. The Kfar Sousa rectangle was kept under surveillance and they provided enemy intelligence services with a complete file to facilitate the operation.
One such piece of information was how to reach the rectangle, the roads leading to the area, and the route to be taken by the implementing group on their way out. This is in addition to a report showing that the courtyard where the explosion took place did not have any security or barriers in place. It was also devoid of any obvious surveillance cameras. The building itself only had two exits, one on the ground floor and one in the basement.
The investigations also showed that local Mossad agents reported the existence of a building under construction with some completed but unfurnished apartments. The enemy, as it turned out, carried out the operation from the structure since it looked onto the rectangle and the targeted building.
The Mossad recruited a Syrian expat who visited his country often, and asked him to move to Damascus to provide logistics for the operation. The agent provided a villa to hide the vehicle and affix it with explosives, in addition to accommodations for the group that carried out the operation.
He rented the villa in an upscale suburb of Damascus (“Assad Villages”), located to the northwest of Kfar Sousa, and asked an ironsmith to separate the car entrance from the pedestrian entrance with an iron net on three sides, making it look like a cage and blocking the entry to the villa from that location.
A while later, the agent went back to Syria and bought a Mitsubishi Pajero 4x4, after knowing that several similar makes visited the targeted location often. In addition, Mughniyeh sometimes drove the same make. The execution team used a different model, Mitsubishi Lancer, due to its popularity in Syria in general.
The Day of Execution
The investigations indicated that the whole operation took around six weeks to implement. Some data, which the investigating team would not reveal, indicate that it began in early January and ended a few days following the assassination in mid-February 2008.
The Pajero, now parked in the villa, was equipped with explosives in its trunk door. It was later discovered that, in addition to the explosives, the bomb contained metal pellets that can cause extensive damage to the target instantaneously. The device was similar to several bombs used by Israel to assassinate resistance leaders in Lebanon and abroad.
The investigators and people close to the file are very secretive about the implementation team. But there are indicators that show that they were not Syrian citizens and that they had travelled in and out of the country to implement the operation.
In the early afternoon of 12 February 2008, one of the implementers drove the Pajero, equipped with explosives in its trunk door, and parked it outside the building frequented by Mughniyeh.
At dusk, the team of four individuals took the getaway Lancer and, after making sure that the construction workers had left the building under construction next to Mughniyeh’s building, three of them went upstairs to observe the parking lot, the target, and the vehicle with the explosives.
They chose an apartment on the sixth floor. One of them surveyed the area with binoculars, another was charged with detonating the explosives, and the third was for protection. The fourth waited in the getaway car parked at the back of the building close to the fence.
Right before 10:20 pm, Mughniyeh exited the building and, as soon as he reached the well-lit lot nine meters away from the Pajero, the bomb was detonated and he was killed instantly. The implementing team left the building and headed toward their getaway car.
They immediately drove toward the Mazzeh highway where they parked the car on the side of the road and left behind some items for distraction. The investigations showed that the implementing team faced a problem while escaping, which led them to leave the car and use another to escape to an unknown location.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.