Al Arabiya investigates: Who really killed Hezbollah’s Mustafa Badreddine?

On the May 13, 2016, Lebanese people were surprised when the Hezbollah’s leading man Hassan Nasrallah was seen mourning the death of his most senior militia commander Mustafa Badreddine.

No sooner did the news of Badreddine demise in Syria broke out, the Lebanese media adopted the story perpetuated by Hezbollah on the circumstances surrounding his death. Still, a few days later, questions began to rise about the credibility of Hezbollah’s version of events.

After investigations into the story, evidence proved that Badreddine did not die fighting in the battlefields of Syria as claimed, but rather, the Hezbollah militia commander was assassinated. And the person responsible for his assassination was none other but his revered leader and friend, Hassan Nasrallah.

Events leading up to May 12
In 2013, Hezbollah was summoned to fight in Syria and Nasrallah commissioned Badreddine to lead the factions there alongside Iran’s Qassem Soleimani who led Quds Force, a branch of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

Soleimani ignored Badreddine’s great experience and aspired to lead the entire battle all by himself. While Badreddine took one risk after the other in the battlefields, leading his soldiers to victories and assuming full responsibility for the losses, he discovered that Soleimani was favoring the lives of the revolutionary guards over those of Hezbollah. The former asked the latter to lead his soldiers himself and take full responsibility over his army.

Both Hassan Nasrallah and Qassem Soleimani are said to have a hand behind Mustafa Badreddine mysterious death.

While Badreddine was fighting with his army in Syria, he was tried in absentia at the International Tribunal in the case of the assassination Rafiq Hariri, former Prime Minister of Lebanon in 2005. Nasrallah has been under a huge pressure from Soleimani, who requested the removal of Badreddine from the battlefield. Consequently, it appears that he had schemed to get rid of the commander.

The question then begs: What really happened on the evening of May 12, 2016? How did Soleimani and Nasrallah arrange the assassination of Mustafa Badreddine? And what really happened near the Damascus International Airport on the night between the May 12-13, 2016?

Aftermath
On May 14, 2016, less than two days after the operation, Al-Akhbar newspaper published the results of the investigation. Badreddine was reported to have arrived to the international airport was reportedly accompanied to the meeting with three other people but was the only one who was killed.

Initial reporting by Al-Mayadeen blamed Israel for the fatal attack, claiming that an Israeli Air Force (IAF) strike successfully targeted Badreddine’s position. But that article was later erased.

The cause of his death was assumed to be a vacuum bomb, while the nearest fighter group was 12 km away from the Damascus airport, which places it in the range of the artillery. Yet, these groups usually used unguided shells for their operations.

However, no gun powder residue found at the scene.

Infographic: Who was Hezbollah’s Mustafa Badreddine?

(Design by: Craig Willers)

Nicholas Blanford, a nonresident senior fellow with the Middle East Peace and Security Initiative, recently wrote an analysis on that point.

“The one claim of responsibility from the rebels came from the Jaysh al-Sunna group which said it had killed Badreddine in Khan Touman in southern Aleppo province. If that were true, why would Hezbollah hide it and make up a story about “takfiris” killing Badreddine much further south in the Damascus airport area?” Blanford asked.

“Also it is unclear what weapon system would be in the hands of rebel groups in the vicinity of Damascus airport that could account for the “large explosion” that Hezbollah said on Friday killed Badreddine. Diplomatic sources in Beirut confirmed that there really was a powerful blast near Damascus airport on Thursday (May 12) even if its origin remains unknown,” Blanford added.

One airport employee recounted the events of the night, saying airport employees were being barred from entering their workplace as the operation was taking place.

“As I was approaching to go to work, I saw a lot of people crowding near the airport. At approximately 10 PM that night we suddenly heard a loud bang and what sounded like fire from three rifles,” the airport employee told Al Arabiya.

“We tried approaching the scene to see what was going on but we were stopped by Hezbollah fighters telling us we weren’t allowed to enter. They did not even allow Syrian senior army officer or the Syrian police from entering the airport,” he said.

Images show the reported site hours before Mustafa Badreddine was killed compared to the same site pictured a day later. (Al Arabiya)

Al Arabiya also obtained images of the site where Mustafa Badreddine was killed which revealed aerial views of the exact scene on May 12 and May 14, both photos showing the site unscathed.

On the same say, the Shiite cleric Abbas Hoteit declared to the south Lebanon website Janoubia that “Badreddine was killed by two treacherous bullets”.

Evidence and eyewitness accounts suggested that four people met at the security building near the Damascus airport that night, one of them being Badreddine himself. The identity of the second person was discovered immediately after the operation on Twitter when a number of people reported they saw Soleimani leaving the site minutes before the operation. The third person was Badreddine’s bodyguard, who could not save his commander’s life.

According to eyewitnesses, the fourth person identified was Ibrahim Hussein Jezzini, a person who Badreddine reportedly trusted the most.

Badreddine’s death was seen as a victory for those affected by his involvement in attacks dating back to the 1980s, reportedly including the deadly suicide truck bombing attack that left over 200 US soldiers dead in Beirut in 1983 as well as the bombings targeting the French and US embassies in Kuwait the same year.

Al Arabiya News ChannelWednesday, 8 March 2017
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Israel’s Army Chief: Hezbollah Commander Mustafa Badreddine Killed by His Own Men

Killing of Mustafa Amine Badreddine last year shows the ‘depth of the internal crisis within Hezbollah,’ Gadi Eisenkot says.

Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot said reports that Mustafa Amine Badreddine was killed by Hezbollah officers are in accordance to “intelligence we have.” The incident “indicates the depth of the internal crisis within Hezbollah,” and “the extent of the cruelty, complexity and tension between Hezbollah and its patron Iran.”
He added that despite Hezbollah’s fighting in Syria providing it with cumulative operational experience, it remains in crisis. “It is an internal crisis over what they are fighting fore, an economic crisis and a leadership crisis,” he asserted. Eisenkot was speaking at an academic conference in Netanya.
Badreddine, one of Hezbollah’s highest ranking military commanders, was killed in Syria in May last year. Initial reports attributed the attack to a covert Israeli operation, but signs suggested otherwise.
Badreddine was said to have assumed the position of his brother-in-law, Hezbollah commander Imad Moughniyeh, who died in a 2008 assassination in Damascus also attributed to Israel. However, some dispute his official status as the group’s military leader, saying he was only in charge of its operations in Syria, as Hezbollah has never publicly named a successor for Moughniyeh, whose son Jihad was also killed in Syria in an attack said to be Israel’s doing.

A U.S. Department of the Treasury statement detailing sanctions against Badreddine had said he was assessed to be responsible for the group’s military operations in Syria since 2011, and he had accompanied Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah during strategic coordination meetings with Assad in Damascus.

Eisenkot also hinted at the Israeli army’s recent operational activity, which has generated tension with the Russian regime. He said, “Despite six years of war in Syria, we are managing to maintain a quiet border, and to prevent the growth in power of those who need not be strengthened with advanced weaponry.” He added that the civil war in Syria involves not only risks but also “many opportunities for regional and international cooperation.”
In his remarks, Eisenkot also stressed Iran’s influence on Hezbollah and Hamas. “Iran is waging before us another campaign, a proxy war, and it is present both in Lebanon and in Syria with thousands of Shi’ite militiamen, as well as in Gaza,” he said. The chief of staff contended that the “primary challenge” for the Israel Defense Forces is Hezbollah, which operates both in Lebanon and in Syria.
Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, however, said Iran poses Israel’s foremost threat. Iran did not give up its nuclear ambitions, and it is trying to influence and shape the Middle East, said Cohen, also at the conference.
“As long as the Ayatollah regime exists, Iran will be the primary challenge for the security establishment, with or without the nuclear deal,” he asserted.

Gili Cohen Mar 22, 2017 12:44 PM

Find this story at 22 March 2017
© Haaretz Daily Newspaper Ltd

TOP HEZBOLLAH COMMANDER MUSTAFA BADREDDINE ASSASSINATED BY OWN GROUP: ISRAELI MILITARY

Israel’s military chief said Tuesday that a top Hezbollah commander who died last year was assassinated by members of his own group, the Iran-backed Lebanese Shiite militia.

Mustafa Badreddine died near the Syrian capital, Damascus, in May 2016, and Hezbollah said that Syrian rebel shelling caused his death.

But recent Arab media reports have alleged that Hezbollah wanted rid of Badreddine because of a difference in opinion on how to wage the military campaign in support of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria. Hezbollah has deployed thousands of troops to the war-torn country to boost the Syrian dictator’s ranks.

Lieutenant-General Gadi Eisenkot, chief of the Israeli armed forces, said that Israeli intelligence had corroborated reports of Hezbollah assassinating one of its own commanders, but did not elaborate on the circumstances.

“According to [media] reports, he was killed by his superiors, which points to the extent of the cruelty, complexity and tension between Hezbollah and its patron, Iran,” he said during a conference speech in the central Israeli city of Netanya, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported. “These reports corresponded with the information we have and with our assessment.”

Read more: Another war between Israel and Hezbollah is inevitable

He continued: “It is an internal crisis over what they are fighting for, an economic crisis and a leadership crisis.”

Hezbollah spokesman Mohammed Afif told Reuters the Israeli remarks were “lies that do not deserve comment.”

Both the U.S. and Israel believed 55-year-old Badreddine to be Hezbollah’s military commander in Syria. His brother-in-law Imad Mughniyeh was Hezbollah’s military commander until he was assassinated in a 2008 bomb blast in Damascus, which reports suggested was the work of both Israel’s Mossad and America’s CIA agencies. Israel as a rule does comment on its foreign operations.

The Lebanese militia fought a one-month war with Israel, its primary enemy, in 2006. It centered on the southern Lebanese border with northern Israel, and the Golan Heights, a contested territory that Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War.

Iran, whose leadership routinely calls for Israel’s destruction, continues to support Hezbollah financially and militarily. Israel continues to conduct strikes against Hezbollah in Syria and Lebanon to prevent Iranian arms transfers to the group.

BY JACK MOORE ON 3/21/17 AT 1:51 PM

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2 Lebanese, 2 Nepalese and 1 Palestinian Held for Spying for Israel

The General Directorate of General Security announced Wednesday that it has arrested two Lebanese men, two Nepalese women and a Palestinian man on charges of “spying for Israeli embassies abroad.”

“During interrogation, the detainees confessed to the charges, admitting that they had called phone numbers belonging to the Israeli enemy’s embassies in Turkey, Jordan, Britain and Nepal with the aim of spying and passing on information,” a General Security statement said.

The investigations revealed that the two aforementioned Nepalese women were actively recruiting Nepalese domestic workers in Lebanon with the aim of spying for Israel.

“They gave them the phone number of the Israeli embassy in Nepal so that they pass on information about their employers to the Mossad Israeli intelligence agency,” the statement added.

“Following interrogation, they were referred to the relevant judicial authorities on charges of collaborating with the Israeli enemy and efforts are underway to arrest the rest of the culprits,” General Security said.

by Naharnet Newsdesk 25 January 2017, 16:04

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Naharnet © 2017

Leading Hezbollah commander and key Israel target killed in Syria (2016)

Hezbollah has confirmed its military commander, Mustafa Badreddine, was killed in Syria this week in what it described as a “major explosion” at Damascus airport.

Media reports in Lebanon and Israel quickly suggested the blast had been caused by an Israeli airstrike, a suggestion to which Hezbollah gave weight, announcing it was investigating whether a “missile or artillery strike” had been responsible.

Badreddine was the most senior member of the organisation to have been killed since the death of his predecessor and brother-in-law, Imad Mughniyeh, who was assassinated by a joint Mossad/CIA operation in the Syrian capital in February 2008.

There was no immediate reaction from the Israeli government, which has authorised at least eight air strikes against targets inside Syria since the start of the civil war five years ago. Most had targeted anti-aircraft systems that Israeli officials claimed were being moved to Lebanon, where they could pose a threat against its air force.

Mustafa Amine Badreddine, in an undated handout picture released at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon website.
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Mustafa Amine Badreddine, in an undated handout picture released at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon website.
Announcing Badreddine’s death, Hezbollah said: “He said months ago that he would not return from Syria except as a martyr or carrying the flag of victory. He is the great jihadi leader Mustafa Badreddine, and he has returned today a martyr.”

The statement added: “The information gleaned from the initial investigation is that a major explosion targeted one of our centres near Damascus International airport, which led to the martyrdom of Sayyid Zul Fikar [his nom de guerre] and the injuries of others.

“The investigation will work to determine the nature of the explosion and its causes, whether it was due to an air or missile or artillery strike, and we will announce the results of the investigation soon.”

Nicknamed Zul Fikar, after the sword of Imam Ali, the Prophet Muhammad’s cousin and one of the most revered figures in Shia Islam, Badreddine was born in 1961 in the southern Beirut suburb of Ghobeiry, and rose to greater prominence after Mughniyeh’s assassination.

He was sentenced to death in Kuwait in the 1980s over a plot to blow up the American and French embassies there during the Iran-Iraq war, but later escaped after Saddam Hussein’s army invaded the oil-rich emirate and threw open its prisons.

Hezbollah said he had been involved in nearly all the group’s operations since its inception in the early 1980s. Most had targeted Israel, which occupied southern Lebanon from 1982 to 2000. However, Badreddine had also been accused of leading a cell that was allegedly responsible for the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri on the Beirut waterfront in February 2005.

He was indicted in 2011 by the special tribunal for Lebanon, an international court established in the Hague, in connection with the massive 2005 bombing, which led Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad to withdraw his forces from Lebanon in the face of a civic uprising.

Badreddine and four other alleged members of Hezbollah remain on trial in absentia at the Hague. Prosecutors have offered one of the few publicly available glimpses of the shadowy Hezbollah operative, describing him as the “apex” of the cell that allegedly killed Hariri, and a figure akin to an “untraceable ghost” who assumed multiple identities.

‘Nobody wants to stay in Lebanon. It’s a miserable life’
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He was known to have studied at a Lebanese university and to have maintained an apartment in the Lebanese seaside area of Jounieh. He was also active in the south Beirut suburb of Dahiyeh, where he was last seen early last year at a wake for Jihad Mughniyeh, the son of Imad Mughniyeh, who was also killed by an Israeli airstrike.

While holding senior positions throughout his career, Badreddine was most known for his role in leading Hezbollah’s large contingent in Syria, which it sent to defend the interest of the Assad regime as his grip on power weakened in 2012. Hezbollah has since lost an estimated 900 members in fighting across Syria, where along with Iran, it has taken the lead in directing numerous battles.

Israel has refused to comment on airstrikes it has previously launched inside Syria. However, unnamed officials have said the strikes had targeted anti-aircraft systems that were allegedly being transferred to Hezbollah. It had also targeted a Hezbollah leader, Samir Kuntar, who had been jailed inside Israel for more than 30 years until his release in 2008.

Despite Israeli protests, Russia has recently proceeded with a long-delayed sale to Iran of the advanced S-300 weapons system, which can shoot down most modern fighter jets. Israeli officials have said they would prioritise tracking the whereabouts of the systems, the position of which in southern Lebanon would pose a potent threat to their air force.

The US treasury department sanctioned Badreddine in 2012 for his activities in support of the government of Assad in Syria, along with the group’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, and its head of external operations, Talal Hamiyah.

Hezbollah said it would hold funeral services on Friday in honour of Badreddine. In south Beirut, posters of Badreddine, whose image had rarely been published, were being hung from overpasses and lamp-posts.

Tens of thousands of mourners are expected to pay their respects at a shrine site for Hezbollah dead, which includes the graves of Imad and Jihad Mughniyah. Nasrallah is also expected to make a public statement – his second within a week.

Martin Chulov and Kareem Shaheen in Beirut
Friday 13 May 2016 04.00 BST First published on Friday 13 May 2016 03.32 BST

Find this story at 13 May 2016

© 2017 Guardian News and Media Limited

Mustafa Badreddine: the Hezbollah leader who left no footprints (2016)

Elias Saab. Sami Issa. Safi Badr. Zul Fikar. All were aliases of Hezbollah’s secretive military commander, Mustafa Amine Badreddine, described in court records as an “untraceable ghost”.

Few details are known about Badreddine, who was killed this week in a mysterious explosion at a Hezbollah base near Damascus airport. This despite him being one of the most prominent figures in the party and the brother-in-law of the notorious Imad Mughniyeh, who he succeeded as military commander after the latter was killed in a 2008 joint CIA-Mossad operation in the Syrian capital.

Born in the southern Beirut suburb of Ghobeiry on 6 April 1961, Badreddine had a pronounced limp, believed to have been sustained while he fought alongside pro-Palestinian and pan-Arabist militias during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982.

His nom de guerre was Sayyed Zul Fikar: Sayyed indicating a claimed descent from the prophet Muhammad; Zul Fikar being the name of the legendary forked sword of Imam Ali, the prophet’s cousin and one of the most revered figures in Shia Islam.

Badreddine was arrested and sentenced to death in Kuwait in 1983 over his suspected involvement in a string of coordinated bombings in the tiny Gulf emirate that also targeted the US and French embassies. They were believed to be retribution for Kuwait and the west’s support for Iraq in its war with Iran.

The sentence, which had to be formally approved by the emir, was never carried out, perhaps as a consequence of a series of attacks and plane hijackings demanding the release of the Kuwait attackers, and which allegedly involved Mughniyeh. It was also never carried out because when the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in August 1990, he threw open the doors of the country’s prisons, allowing Badreddine to escape.

This is where the trail disappears. It only emerges again in 2011, when UN prosecutors investigating a 2005 Beirut bombing that killed Lebanon’s prime minister, Rafik Hariri, indicted Badreddine. They alleged he was the coordinator of a sophisticated network that tracked and ultimately assassinated the popular billionaire.

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Court records from the special tribunal for Lebanon have offered a rare glimpse into the life of Badreddine, who was charged with conspiring to commit a terrorist act, carrying out a terrorist act by means of an explosive device, and intentional homicide.

Badreddine studied political science at the Lebanese American University from 2002-04. He drove a Mercedes Benz, owned the Samino jewellery shop in Beirut, and an apartment in Jounieh, a coastal town north of the capital known for its active nightlife, where he supposedly entertained friends.

His phone’s contact list, prosecutors alleged, included the numbers of college friends and business associates, Hezbollah officials and bodyguards, family members as well as supposed girlfriends.

Badreddine became military commander in 2008 after his brother-in-law was killed by a bomb placed in the headrest of his car. Mughniyeh had been the architect of Hezbollah’s guerrilla defence in Lebanon during the 2006 war with Israel and was implicated in the 1990s bombing of a synagogue in Argentina.

There are almost no images available of Badreddine. Two that were made available by the tribunal were dated, one showing him as a teenager and the other apparently from his days in Kuwait, showing a handsome young man with curly hair and a moustache, dressed in a tie-less suit. On Friday’s Hezbollah’s media department circulated an photo of the commander smiling in military fatigues and sporting a short grey beard and spectacles.

Badreddine left few personal records. Investigators for the UN trial say they found no driving licences or passports, no property formally owned by him, no record of him ever having left Lebanon, no bank accounts, and no photos from around the time of Hariri’s assassination. In the opening sessions of his trial in absentia in The Hague, prosecutors said he “passes as an unrecognisable and untraceable ghost throughout Lebanon, leaving no footprint as he passes”.

Hezbollah vehemently denies the allegations and does not recognise the tribunal.

In recent years, Badreddine was mostly known for his role in leading Hezbollah’s contingent in Syria, where the paramilitary group has been instrumental in ensuring the continued survival of the Assad government, alongside its patron, Iran, where an estimated 900 of the party’s fighters have died, including Jihad Mughniyeh, Imad’s son.

Badreddine was sanctioned by the US Treasury Department over his role in Syria in 2012.

An Israeli investigative journalist who is writing a history of the Mossad said the strike that killed Jihad Mughniyeh near the Golan Heights last year was actually aimed at Badreddine.

Kareem Shaheen in Beirut
Friday 13 May 2016 10.02 BST Last modified on Friday 27 May 2016 07.25 BST

Find this story at 13 May 2016

© 2017 Guardian News and Media Limited

Mystery of Missing Lebanese Cleric Deepens (2015)

BEIRUT, Lebanon — When the youngest son of the former Libyan leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, was arrested in Lebanon last week in connection with the unsolved disappearance of Moussa al-Sadr, an exalted Lebanese Shiite cleric who vanished while visiting Libya in 1978, speculation sprouted about new information concerning one of the biggest whodunits in the treacherous politics of the Middle East.

On Monday, the mystery deepened with news that the son, Hannibal Qaddafi, may have been forcibly — and illegally — brought to Lebanon against his will in a plot involving the son of a colleague of Mr. Sadr’s, Sheikh Mohammad Yacoub, who disappeared along with Mr. Sadr and a third companion in Libya nearly four decades ago.

Lebanese officials said that Sheikh Yacoub’s son, Hassan Yacoub, a former member of Parliament, had been formally placed under arrest on suspicion that he had helped orchestrate the abduction of Hannibal Qaddafi from Damascus, Syria, in the days preceding Mr. Qaddafi’s arrest here. The officials and a lawyer for Mr. Qaddafi said he had been living in Syria, granted asylum by the Syrian government in the aftermath of Colonel Qaddafi’s violent fall from power in October 2011.

Even with the arrest of Mr. Yacoub, Hannibal Qaddafi remains under arrest in Lebanon, accused by an investigative magistrate of not providing all information he may know about the disappearance of Mr. Sadr, Sheikh Yacoub and Abbas Badreddine, a journalist, while they were visiting Libya at Colonel Qaddafi’s invitation in August 1978. It is unclear what information Hannibal Qaddafi, 40, could possibly share, since he was a small boy at the time.

The disappearance of Mr. Sadr and his colleagues in Libya remains a potent mystery in Lebanon, where Mr. Sadr is revered as a hero to poor Shiites from the tumultuous days of the 1970s, when Lebanon was convulsed by civil war, a spillover of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and other problems. The disappearance has been the subject of numerous criminal inquiries. Colonel Qaddafi, a notoriously erratic and unpredictable dictator, insisted that he had nothing to do with it and that the Lebanese visitors vanished after having flown to Italy.

Many Lebanese say they believe that three Qaddafi aides, disguised as the Lebanese visitors, flew to Italy with their luggage to create a false narrative about where they had last been seen.

Mr. Qaddafi’s lawyer, Boshra Khalil, said in a telephone interview that her client had been beaten and thrown into a car trunk when kidnapped from Syria by people she described as bodyguards of Mr. Yacoub.

The Lebanese news media have widely reported that Mr. Qaddafi had been brought to Lebanon in Mr. Yacoub’s car. His abductors forced Mr. Qaddafi to read a statement broadcast on Lebanese television on Dec. 10, in which he said that they were disciples of Mr. Sadr and that their cause was just. They turned him over to Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces the next day, and he was placed under formal arrest on Dec. 14.

Ms. Khalil said she expected him to be released soon. “He is not guilty, and he was 3 years old when Imam Sadr went missing,” she said. “He knows nothing about the case.”

Hwaida Saad reported from Beirut, and Rick Gladstone from New York.

By HWAIDA SAAD and RICK GLADSTONEDEC. 21, 2015

Find this story at 21 December 2015

© 2017 The New York Times Company

Beirut, Also the Site of Deadly Attacks, Feels Forgotten (2015)

The relatives of one of the victims of the twin suicide attacks in Beirut mourned during a funeral procession in the city’s Burj al-Barajneh neighborhood. Credit Wael Hamzeh/European Pressphoto Agency
BEIRUT, Lebanon — Ali Awad, 14, was chopping vegetables when the first bomb struck. Adel Tormous, who would die tackling the second bomber, was sitting at a nearby coffee stand. Khodr Alaa Deen, a registered nurse, was on his way to work his night shift at the teaching hospital of the American University at Beirut, in Lebanon.

All three lost their lives in a double suicide attack in Beirut on Thursday, along with 40 others, and much like the scores who died a day later in Paris, they were killed at random, in a bustling urban area, while going about their normal evening business.

Around the crime scenes in south Beirut and central Paris alike, a sense of shock and sadness lingered into the weekend, with cafes and markets quieter than usual. The consecutive rampages, both claimed by the Islamic State, inspired feelings of shared, even global vulnerability — especially in Lebanon, where many expressed shock that such chaos had reached France, a country they regarded as far safer than their own.

But for some in Beirut, that solidarity was mixed with anguish over the fact that just one of the stricken cities — Paris — received a global outpouring of sympathy akin to the one lavished on the United States after the 9/11 attacks.

Monuments around the world lit up in the colors of the French flag; presidential speeches touted the need to defend “shared values;” Facebook offered users a one-click option to overlay their profile pictures with the French tricolor, a service not offered for the Lebanese flag. On Friday the social media giant even activated Safety Check, a feature usually reserved for natural disasters that lets people alert loved ones that they are unhurt; they had not activated it the day before for Beirut.

Photo

The site of Thursday’s twin suicide bombings in the Burj al-Barajneh neighborhood of Beirut, Lebanon. Credit Bilal Hussein/Associated Press
“When my people died, no country bothered to light up its landmarks in the colors of their flag,” Elie Fares, a Lebanese doctor, wrote on his blog. “When my people died, they did not send the world into mourning. Their death was but an irrelevant fleck along the international news cycle, something that happens in those parts of the world.”

The implication, numerous Lebanese commentators complained, was that Arab lives mattered less. Either that, or that their country — relatively calm despite the war next door — was perceived as a place where carnage is the norm, an undifferentiated corner of a basket-case region.

In fact, while Beirut was once synonymous with violence, when it went through a grinding civil war a generation ago, this was the deadliest suicide bombing to hit the city since that conflict ended in 1990. Lebanon has weathered waves of political assassinations, street skirmishes and wars; Israeli airstrikes leveled whole apartment blocks in 2006. But it had been a year of relative calm.

(A reminder of the muddled perceptions came last week, when Jeb Bush, the Republican presidential candidate, declared that “if you’re a Christian, increasingly in Lebanon, or Iraq or Syria, you’re gonna be beheaded.” That was news to Lebanon’s Christians, who hold significant political power.)

The disparity in reactions highlighted a sense in the region of being left alone to bear the brunt of Syria’s deadly four-year war, which has sent more than four million refugees fleeing, mostly to neighboring countries like Lebanon. For the Lebanese, the government has been little help, plagued as it is with gridlock and corruption that have engendered electricity and water shortages and, most recently, a collapse of garbage collection. Many in the region — both supporters and opponents of the Syrian government — say they have long warned the international powers that, if left unaddressed, the conflict would eventually spill into the West.

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To be sure, the attacks meant different things in Paris and Beirut. Paris saw it as a bolt from the blue, the worst attack in the city in decades, while to Beirut the bombing was the fulfillment of a never entirely absent fear that another outbreak of violence may come.

Lebanon seemed to have recovered over the past year and a half from a series of bombings claimed by Sunni militant groups as revenge for the intervention by Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based Shiite militia, in the Syrian civil war to provide critical support for the Syrian government.

Some blamed news coverage for the perception that Beirut is still an active war zone. They cited headlines — including, briefly, a Times one that was soon changed to be more precise — that refer to the predominantly Shiite neighborhood where the bombing took place as a “stronghold” of the militia and political party Hezbollah.

That is hard to dispute in the political sense — Hezbollah controls security in the neighborhood and is highly popular there, along with the allied Amal party. But the phrase also risks portraying a busy civilian, residential and commercial district as a justifiable military target.

Meanwhile, Syrians fretted that the brunt of reaction to both attacks would fall on them. There are a million Syrians in Lebanon, a country of four million; some have become desperate enough to contemplate joining the accelerating flow of those taking smugglers’ boats to Europe.

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But now, the attacks could rally political pressure in Europe to stop admitting them. When evidence emerged that at least one of the Paris attackers may have posed as an asylum seeker to reach Europe, some opponents of the migration quickly used that to argue for closing the doors.

That drew sharp reactions from Syrians, who said refugees were fleeing to Europe precisely to escape indiscriminate violence.

“This is the sort of terrorism that Syrian refugees have been fleeing by the millions,” declared Faisal Alazem, a spokesman for the Syrian Canadian Council.

The compassion gap is even more evident when it comes to the situation in Syria itself, where death tolls comparable to the 129 so far in the Paris attacks are far from rare and, during the worst periods, were virtually daily occurrences.

“Imagine if what happened in Paris last night would happen there on a daily basis for five years,” said Nour Kabbach, who fled the heavy bombardment of her home city of Aleppo, Syria, several years ago and now works in humanitarian aid in Beirut.

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More than a dozen countries have had attacks since the Islamic State, or ISIS, began to pursue a global strategy in the summer of 2014.

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“Now imagine all that happening without global sympathy for innocent lost lives, with no special media updates by the minute, and without the support of every world leader condemning the violence,” she wrote on Facebook. Finally, she said, ask yourself what it would be like to have to explain to your child why an attack in “another pretty city like yours” got worldwide attention and your own did not.

Back in southern Beirut over the weekend, as the government announced the arrest of seven Syrians and two Lebanese in connection with the attack, the street where the bombings took place was strewn with lettuce and parsley from pushcarts overturned in the blast. Men washed blood from sidewalks. A shop’s inventory of shoes — from small children’s slippers to women’s clogs — was scattered across the pavement. Several funeral processions were massing, ready to march to cemeteries.

Residents mourned Ali Awad, 14, passing around his picture in a scouting uniform. He had run out to see what had happened after the first blast, and was caught in the second, relatives said.

Nearby, Abdullah Jawad stood staring glumly into a shop. His friend, the owner, had died there, just after Mr. Jawad had painted the place.

“The government can’t protect us,” he said. “They can’t even pick up the trash from the streets.”

As for Facebook, it declared that the high level of social media activity around the Paris attacks had inspired the company to activate Safety Check for the first time for an emergency other than a natural disaster, and that a policy of when to do so was still developing.

“There has to be a first time for trying something new, even in complex and sensitive times, and for us that was Paris,” wrote Alex Schultz, the company’s vice president for growth, adding that Safety Check is less useful in continuing wars and epidemics because, without a clear end point, “it’s impossible to know when someone is truly ‘safe.’”

Hwaida Saad contributed reporting.
By ANNE BARNARDNOV. 15, 2015

Find this story at 15 November 2015

© 2017 The New York Times Company

Islamist group ISIS claims deadly Lebanon blast, promises more violence (2014)

A Sunni Islamist group claims responsibility for a suicide bombing in Beirut
The group, ISIS, says it’s the “first small payment” in a bigger push against Hezbollah
Thursday’s car bomb detonated in a Beirut suburb known as a Hezbollah stronghold
Lebanon has seen a surge in violence as tensions are exacerbated by Syria’s civil war
A Sunni Islamist militant group claimed responsibility Saturday for a car bomb attack in Lebanon’s capital two days earlier which killed four people and injured dozens.
The group, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, known as ISIS, said Thursday’s suicide blast in southern Beirut was the “first small payment” in a bigger push against the Lebanon-based Shiite militia Hezbollah.
The al Qaeda-affiliated group has been pushing for a fundamentalist Islamic state carved out of northern Syria, while Hezbollah fighters have been supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s brutal push to crush a rebellion there.
The ISIS statement said it targeted “the Shiite Satan party” — meaning Hezbollah — in order “to crush its strongholds in the heart of its home in what is called the security zone in the southern suburbs of Beirut on Thursday in a first small payment from the heavy account that is awaiting those wicked criminals.”
The residential Harek Hreik district, where the car bomb exploded Thursday, is known as a Hezbollah stronghold.
Car bombings in the same area of Beirut in July and August killed dozens and injured hundreds.
And in November, a suicide bomb attack outside the Iranian Embassy, close to the neighborhood where Thursday’s attack occurred, killed two dozen people and injured about 150.
Long-standing tensions in Lebanon have been exacerbated by the civil war raging on its doorstep in Syria, where sectarian divisions reflect those in Lebanon.
Regional turmoil
The Lebanese army said Saturday that the alleged chief of another Sunni jihadist group, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, had died in custody after his health deteriorated.
Majed Al-Majed, a Saudi national, was detained in the past few days by the Lebanese army. His group has claimed responsibility for bombings in Lebanon and elsewhere.
Beirut-based Middle East analyst Rami Khouri told CNN that the recent surge in violence in Lebanon was part of larger, regional turmoil.
“We are seeing the greatest proxy war of modern times playing itself out in Lebanon and Syria and Iraq, that have now become really one battlefield in which two great ideological camps are fighting to the death like gladiators,” he said.
Political divisions and ideological tensions in Lebanon go back several decades, Khouri said, but they have been reinforced by the emergence of radical Islamist terrorist groups, linked to al Qaeda, following the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran, was designated as a terrorist group by the United States in 1995.

By Mohammed Tawfeeq and Laura Smith-Spark, CNN
Updated 1547 GMT (2347 HKT) January 4, 2014
Find this story at 4 January 2014

© 2017 Cable News Network

Did Hizballah Beat the CIA at Its Own Techno-Surveillance Game? (2011)

The CIA found itself in some rough waters in the Middle East last week. On Thursday, an influential member of Iran’s parliament announced that the Islamic republic had arrested 12 “CIA agents” who had allegedly been targeting Iran’s military and its nuclear program. The lawmaker didn’t give the nationality of the agents, but the presumption is that they were Iranians recruited to spy for the CIA. The agency hasn’t yet commented, but from what I’ve heard it was a serious compromise, one which the CIA is still trying to get to the bottom of.

Even more curious was the flap in Lebanon. In June, Hizballah’s secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah announced that the movement had arrested two of its own members as CIA spies. But it wasn’t until last week that the story got traction in Washington. The CIA confirmed that operations in Beirut had been compromised but declined to offer details. As in the case of the alleged Iranian debacle, it’s no doubt still doing a “damage assessment” — a process that can take years. Even then, it will be difficult to determine exactly what happened.

From what I’ve been able to piece together, Hizballah aggressively went after the CIA in Lebanon using telephone “link analysis.” That’s a form of electronic intelligence gathering that uses software capable of combing through trillions of gigabytes of phone-call data in search of anomalies — prepaid cell phones calling each other, series of brief calls, analysis of a cell-phone company’s GPS tracking. Geeks who do this for a living understand how it works, and I’ll take their word for it.

But it’s not the technology that’s remarkable, as much as the idea that it’s being employed by Hizballah, a militant Islamic organization better known for acts of terror than for electronic counterespionage. That’s another reminder that Hizballah has effectively supplanted the Lebanese state, taking over police and security functions that in other countries are the exclusively the domain of sovereign authority. Indeed, since Nasrallah’s announcement of catching the CIA agents, no Lebanese authority has questioned why Hizballah, rather than Lebanese intelligence, would be responsible for catching alleged spies for foreign powers in Lebanon. Nobody bothers to ask what would be a pointless question; everyone knows that when it comes to military and security functions, Hizballah might as well be the state.

(Watch a video of Hizballah’s theme park.)
Since I served in Beirut during the ’80s, I’ve been struck by the slow but inexorable shift of sovereign power to Hizballah. Not only does the movement have the largest military, with nearly 50,000 rockets pointed at Israel; it has de facto control over Lebanon’s spies, both military and civilian. It green-lights senior appointments. Hizballah also is wired into all the databases, keeping track of who enters the country, who leaves, where they stay, whom they see and call. It’s capable of monitoring every server in the country. It can even tap into broadband communications like Skype. And, of course, it doesn’t bother with such legal niceties as warrants. If foreigners are going to be caught spy in Lebanon, it will be Hizballah that catches them.

I have a feeling last week’s events bodes ill for U.S. intelligence because it suggests that anyone capable from organized crime to terrorist groups can greatly enhance their counterintelligence capability by simply buying off-the-shelf equipment and the know-how to use it. Like a lot of people, I thought it would be easy coasting at the end of the Cold War after the KGB was defanged. Instead, globalization and the rapid spread of sophisticated technologies have opened an espionage Pandora’s box.

By Robert Baer Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2011
Find this story at 30 November 2011

© 2016 Time Inc.

Exclusive: CIA Spies Caught, Fear Execution in Middle East (2011)

In a significant failure for the United States in the Mideast, more than a dozen spies working for the CIA in Iran and Lebanon have been caught and the U.S. government fears they will be or have been executed, according to four current and former U.S. officials with connections to the intelligence community.

The spies were paid informants recruited by the CIA for two distinct espionage rings targeting Iran and the Beirut-based Hezbollah organization, considered by the U.S. to be a terror group backed by Iran.

“Espionage is a risky business,” a U.S. official briefed on the developments told ABC News, confirming the loss of the unspecified number of spies over the last six months.

“Many risks lead to wins, but some result in occasional setbacks,” the official said.

Robert Baer, a former senior CIA officer who worked against Hezbollah while stationed in Beirut in the 1980’s, said Hezbollah typically executes individuals suspected of or caught spying.

“If they were genuine spies, spying against Hezbollah, I don’t think we’ll ever see them again,” he said. “These guys are very, very vicious and unforgiving.”

Other current and former officials said the discovery of the two U.S. spy rings occurred separately, but amounted to a setback of significant proportions in efforts to track the activities of the Iranian nuclear program and the intentions of Hezbollah against Israel.

“Remember, this group was responsible for killing more Americans than any other terrorist group before 9/11,” said a U.S. official. Attacks on the U.S. embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983 killed more than 300 people, including almost 260 Americans.

The U.S. official, speaking for the record but without attribution, gave grudging credit to the efforts of Iran and Hezbollah to detect and expose U.S. and Israeli espionage.

“Collecting sensitive information on adversaries who are aggressively trying to uncover spies in their midst will always be fraught with risk,” said the U.S. official briefed on the spy ring bust.

But others inside the American intelligence community say sloppy “tradecraft” — the method of covert operations — by the CIA is also to blame for the disruption of the vital spy networks.

In Beirut, two Hezbollah double agents pretended to go to work for the CIA. Hezbollah then learned of the restaurant where multiple CIA officers were meeting with several agents, according to the four current and former officials briefed on the case. The CIA used the codeword “PIZZA” when discussing where to meet with the agents, according to U.S. officials. Two former officials describe the location as a Beirut Pizza Hut. A current US official denied that CIA officers met their agents at Pizza Hut.

From there, Hezbollah’s internal security arm identified at least a dozen informants, and the identities of several CIA case officers.

Hezbollah then began to “roll up” much of the CIA’s network against the terror group, the officials said.

One former senior intelligence official told ABC News that CIA officers ignored warnings that the operation could be compromised by using the same location for meetings with multiple assets.

“We were lazy and the CIA is now flying blind against Hezbollah,” the former official said.

CIA Spies Caught in Iran

At about the same time that Hezbollah was identifying the CIA network in Lebanon, Iranian intelligence agents discovered a secret internet communication method used by CIA-paid assets in Iran.

The CIA has yet to determine precisely how many of its assets were compromised in Iran, but the number could be in the dozens, according to one current and one former U.S. intelligence official.

The exposure of the two spy networks was first announced in widely ignored televised statements by Iranian and Hezbollah leaders. U.S. officials tell ABC News that much of what was broadcast was, in fact, true.

Hezbollah’s leader, Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, announced in June of this year that two high-ranking members of Hezbollah had been exposed as CIA spies, leading U.S. officials to conclude that the entire network inside Hezbollah had been compromised.

In Iran, intelligence minister Heidar Moslehi announced in May that more than 30 U.S. and Israeli spies had been discovered and an Iranian television program, which acts as a front for Iran’s government, showed images of internet sites used by the U.S. for secret communication with the spies.

U.S. officials said the Iranian television program showed pictures of people who were not U.S. assets, but the program’s video of the websites used by the CIA was accurate.

Some former U.S. intelligence officials say the developments are the result of a lack of professionalism in the U.S. intelligence community.

“We’ve lost the tradition of espionage,” said one former official who still consults for the U.S. intelligence community. “Officers take short cuts and no one is held accountable,” he said.

But at the CIA, officials say such risks come with the territory.

“Hezbollah is an extremely complicated enemy,” said a U.S. official. “It’s a determined terrorist group, a powerful political player, a mighty military and an accomplished intelligence operation, formidable and ruthless. No one underestimates its capabilities.”

“If you lose an asset, one source, that’s normally a setback in espionage,” said Robert Baer, who was considered an expert on Hezbollah.

“But when you lose your entire station, either in Tehran or Beirut, that’s a catastrophe, that just shouldn’t be. And the only way that ever happens is when you’re mishandling sources.”

By MATTHEW COLEBRIAN ROSS Nov. 21, 2011

Find this story at 21 November 2011

COpyright http://abcnews.go.com/