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
Find this story at 8 March 2017

Copyright http://english.alarabiya.net

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

Find this story at 21 March 2017

Copyright http://www.newsweek.com/

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

Find this story at 25 January 2017

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.

Analysis Ten years after Hariri’s assassination, Lebanon badly needs his moderation
Lebanon dared to hope under Rafik Hariri, but the prime minister’s death exposed the country’s sectarian fault lines and lit the fuse that led to Syria’s civil war
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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

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/

Lebanon better able to catch alleged Israeli spies (2010)

A strengthening Lebanese government is helping the militant group Hezbollah bust alleged spy cells, sometimes using tools and tradecraft acquired from Western nations.

Reporting from Beirut — The chief of Lebanon’s domestic security forces had a warning for the Hezbollah commander: “You’ve been infiltrated.”

With that, Achraf Rifi, head of the U.S.-backed Internal Security Forces, handed over evidence showing that two trusted, mid-ranking Hezbollah commanders were working as informants for Israeli military intelligence, said a high-ranking Lebanese security official with knowledge of the April 2009 meeting.

Wafiq Safa, the security chief for the powerful Shiite Muslim militia and political organization, was silent.

“They were shocked,” said the security official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak on the subject.

Things moved quickly after that. The Hezbollah commander called Rifi the next day to assure him that the militant group would “take care of” the alleged infiltrators, who were never heard from again, the security official said.

A monthlong war between Hezbollah and Israel ended four years ago, and Israel’s occupation of southern Lebanon ended a decade ago. But a clandestine intelligence war between the Jewish state and the Iranian-backed militant group continues unabated, officials and security experts say.

Now, a strengthening Lebanese government is helping Hezbollah bust alleged spy cells, sometimes using tools and tradecraft acquired from Western nations eager to build up Lebanon’s security forces as a counterweight to the Shiite group, which since a 2008 power-sharing agreement has been a member of the governing coalition.

Although security officials here say they’re using newfound tools to ferret out spies watching Hezbollah, just like they would against anyone attempting to infiltrate the country, Western observers express concern.

“There are deep Israeli worries that anything the West gives the Lebanese armed forces and the Internal Security Forces could be used against them,” said Mara Karlin, a former Lebanon specialist at the U.S. Defense Department, now a researcher at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

The United States and its Western allies play a delicate balancing game in Lebanon. Since 2006, Washington has given nearly $500 million in military aid to Lebanese security forces and has allocated $100 million for 2011, making Lebanon the second-largest recipient of American military aid per capita after Israel.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense Alexander Vershbow met officials in Lebanon on Monday, emphasizing that continuing U.S. aid and training would allow the army to “prevent militias and other nongovernment organizations” from undermining the government.

The use of sophisticated equipment in the foiling of alleged Israeli spies may be the first concrete illustration of the U.S. dilemma. According to Lebanese officials, Israeli analysts and a Western diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity, Lebanon has redirected for use against Israel signal-detection equipment donated by France and intended to fight Islamic militants.

“The technology used with Fatah Islam was used to detect Israeli spies and collaborators in Lebanon,” said retired Col. Kamal Awar, a U.S.-trained former member of the Lebanese Special Forces who now publishes Defense 21, an Arabic-language military journal. “They discovered they were talking with the Israeli guy on the other side of the border.”

The U.S. military has also contributed to the Lebanese security forces’ communications abilities. Israeli analyst Ronen Bergman, author of “The Secret War with Iran,” who is writing a book about the history of his country’s intelligence efforts, said the U.S. gave Lebanon’s army sophisticated electronic equipment that allowed it to identify and trace even encrypted communications.

But there is no evidence that the training and equipment have been used to foil the intelligence operations of Israel, a major American ally.

Israel and Lebanon have long claimed counterintelligence coups and thwarted alleged traitors.

In 2008, Israel charged Sgt. Maj. Lovai Balut of Military Intelligence Unit 504 of passing on information to Hezbollah, according to the Jerusalem Post. In June, the Israeli army arrested a soldier and several civilians accused of spying for Hezbollah and smuggling drugs into the Jewish state.

But over the last two years, Lebanon’s security forces may have conducted one of the most extraordinary counterintelligence sweeps in the annals of espionage. Dozens of alleged spies have been arrested in Lebanon on suspicion of sending information to Israel on the whereabouts and movements of Hezbollah and other enemies of the Jewish state.

The broad range of suspects suggests a widespread effort by Israeli security forces to infiltrate Hezbollah, which Israel views as a severe threat to its national security.

They include a city official of a small town in Hezbollah’s Bekaa Valley stronghold. Ziad Homsy, allegedly recruited at a conference in the Far East, is serving a temporary sentence of hard labor pending a final verdict.

“Homsy had fought against the Israeli occupation,” said a Lebanese army officer, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the topic. “It was not easy to recruit him. But he needed the money. He would never drive a Kia. It was either a Mercedes or an SUV or stay at home.”

There is the case of Lebanese army reserve Brig. Gen. Adib Alam, arrested in 2009 on charges of spying for Israel, who was reportedly convinced that it would help counter Syria, which he despised for its dominant role in recent Lebanese history.

One convicted spy, Marwan Faqih, was a car dealer who allegedly sold Hezbollah bigwigs SUVs equipped with tracking devices that allowed Israel to follow their movements. Hezbollah has denied that its members bought cars from him.

This summer, Lebanese security forces arrested two people working for the country’s state-owned Alfa cellphone company who allegedly allowed Israel to breach the communications network, a matter that has roiled the Lebanese Cabinet and prompted the government to announce that it would seek redress against Israel at the U.N. Security Council.

Three Lebanese nationals, one of whom was found guilty of providing Israel with sensitive information during its 2006 war with Hezbollah, have been sentenced to death for spying activities.

The motives vary, security officials said. Some of those apprehended have political gripes against Hezbollah.

“There are some political reasons, there are some psychological reasons,” the high-ranking security official said. “But mostly it’s money and sex.”

According to Lebanese security officials and intelligence experts, the alleged spies used sophisticated electronic devices to communicate with their handlers via coded messages. In May 2009, the intelligence branch of the ISF paraded some of the devices before an eager press corps. They included laptop computers, satellite phones, a tracking device hidden in the lid of a water cooler and a wooden chest installed with an apparatus for transmitting and receiving messages.

“If only part of this story is true, it means [Hezbollah] has been sharing its every step and move with a silent partner,” said Gad Shimron, a former Mossad officer and author of the book “Mossad Exodus.”

Over the last several years, Lebanon has doubled the number of officers working in counterintelligence. Security officials believed that their efforts are bearing fruit by dismantling a robust Israeli spy infrastructure they say has been in place in the country for decades.

“They were strong and we were weaker,” the Lebanese security official said. “The Israelis thought they had the technological edge that put them ahead of the Arabs by 30 years. But we showed them we’re catching up.”

But some analysts speculate that Lebanese security forces are giving themselves too much credit, and that Hezbollah, Iran and Syria may have contributed to the country’s apparent counterintelligence successes.

“Anecdotal data suggests Hezbollah is providing intelligence to ISF and LAF,” the Lebanese military, said Aram Nerguizian, a resident scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank.

Some of the successes involved blind luck. The alleged activities of Faqih, the SUV dealer, unraveled when a Hezbollah member took his car to a mechanic over a minor electrical problem.

“The electrician started testing here and there,” the Lebanese army officer said. “He found a wire leading to a strange device. He told the owner.”

Hezbollah detained Faqih soon afterward.

July 31, 2010|By Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times

Find this story at 31 July 2010
Copyright 2017 Los Angeles Times

If Syria and Iraq Become Fractured, So Too Will Tripoli and North Lebanon

BEIRUT — The talk now is all about whether Syria and Iraq will end up as divided states. The impetus for such speculation derives firstly from the latest Saudi, Qatari and Turkish joint resolve to mount huge numbers of jihadists on Syria’s borders. According to two senior political figures I spoke to, up to 10,000+ Wahhabist/Salafists (predominantly An-Nusra/Al Qaeda) have been gathered by the intelligence services of these latter states, mostly non-Arabs from Chechnya, Turkmenistan, etc. Plainly, Washington is aware of this (massively expensive) Saudi maneuver and equally plainly it is turning a blind eye to it.

Secondly, the speculation about a coming fractured Iraq has gained big momentum from ISIS’s virtually unopposed walk-in to Ramadi. The images of long columns of ISIS Toyota Land Cruisers, black pennants waving in the wind, making their way from Syria all the way — along empty desert main roads — to Ramadi with not an American aircraft in evidence, certainly needs some explaining. There cannot be an easier target imagined than an identified column of vehicles, driving an arterial road, in the middle of a desert.

Do these two cases of a Nelsonian “blind eye” have something to do with persuading the GCC at Camp David to sign up to the statement that they accepted that an agreement with Iran on its nuclear program was in their “security interests”? After all, Obama desperately needs it to paint Netanyahu as the isolated outlier on the Iran deal issue and thus undercut his ability to influence Congress.

Coincidentally, a highly redacted U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency assessment from August 2012 has been released through a federal lawsuit. It states that “If the situation unravels [in Syria], there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in eastern Syria (Hasaka and Der Zor), and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime.” The assessment says that the creation of such a Salafist principality would have “dire consequences” for Iraq and would possibly lead to the creation of an Islamic State and would “create the ideal atmosphere for AQI to return to its old pockets in Mosul and Ramadi.”

A few days after the release of the DIA assessment report, John Bolton lent weight to its claims: “I think the Sunni Arabs are never going to agree to be in a state [Iraq] where the Shia outnumber them 3-1. That’s what ISIS has been able to take advantage of. I think our objective should be a new Sunni state out of the western part of Iraq, the eastern part of Syria run by moderates or at least authoritarians who are not radical Islamists.”

Well, this is exactly what has happened. Should we be surprised? The idea of breaking up the large Arab states into ethnic or sectarian enclaves is an old Ben Gurion “canard,” and splitting Iraq along sectarian lines has been Vice President Biden’s recipe since the Iraq war. But the idea of driving a Sunni “wedge” into the landline linking Iran to Syria and to Hezbollah in Lebanon became established Western group think in the wake of the 2006 war, in which Israel failed to de-fang Hezbollah. The response to 2006, it seemed to Western powers, was to cut off Hezbollah from its sources of weapons supply from Iran.

In short, the DIA assessment indicates that the “wedge” concept was being given new life by the desire to pressure Assad in the wake of the 2011 insurgency launched against the Syrian state. “Supporting powers” effectively wanted to inject hydraulic fracturing fluid into eastern Syria (radical Salafists) in order to fracture the bridge between Iran and its Arab allies, even at the cost of this “fracking” opening fissures right down inside Iraq to Ramadi. (Intelligence assessments purpose is to provide “a view” — not to describe or prescribe policy. But it is clear that the DIA reports’ “warnings” were widely circulated and would have been meshed into the policy consideration.)

But this “view” has exactly come about. It is fact. One might conclude then that in the policy debate, the notion of isolating Hezbollah from Iran, and of weakening and pressurizing President Assad, simply trumped the common sense judgement that when you pump highly toxic and dangerous fracturing substances into geological formations, you can never entirely know or control the consequences. And once you go down this road, it is not easy to “walk it back,” as it were: the toxicity is already suffused through the rocks. So, when the GCC demanded a “price” for any Iran deal (i.e. massing “fracking” forces close to Aleppo), the pass had been already partially been sold by the U.S. by 2012, when it did not object to what the “supporting powers” wanted.

Will then the region fragment into a hardcore Wahhabist/Salafist corridor stretching across Syria and Iraq, while the non-Wahhabist other states (Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen — and Hezbollah) stand in armed opposition to this entity? Perhaps. We do not know. But statements by Hezbollah’s Deputy Leader, Shiekh Naim Qassem and Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, suggest that neither Iran nor Hezbollah will accept a “fracked” Syria. (It is less clear however whether this applies to Iraq too, though we suspect that for Iran, it does.)

Similar comments have been made by a senior Hashad leader in Iraq: “It is impossible to eliminate ISIS in Iraq without following it into Syria. We will put our differences with Syria on one side and will join efforts to fight and eliminate ISIS … The U.S. knew that ISIS would expand in Syria and was planning to divide Iraq. This plan is over…” These comments may presage a more proactive response by Iran (and it is hard to see that Russia and China will not be more proactive too, given the composition of the forces now being groomed by Saudi and Turkish intelligence).

But there is another point to this speculation: It leaves out Lebanon. If Syria and Iraq are to be “fracked” — and hard-core Sunni fundamentalism return “to its old pockets in Mosul and Ramadi,” in the words of the DIA assessment, why should Tripoli (capital of Libya) and the north of Lebanon prove immune from this “fracturing”? Lebanon’s Tripoli was in fact the first ISIS-style “emirate.”

The reason why a Salafi-jihadist movement should have originated in Tripoli needs a little background. A city of half a million people, Tripoli is, in a nutshell, the seat of Sunni strength in Lebanon. Traditionally, Tripoli had been the center of militant pan-Arabist nationalist and Nasserist sentiment, and until the Lebanese civil war, it lay in the mainstream of Levant Sunnism. Militant Arabism in Tripoli had Arabist nationalist and Nasserist sentiment, and until the Lebanese civil war, it lay in the mainstream of Levant Sunnism. Militant Arabism in Tripoli had been so pronounced in the 1920s and 1930s that its inhabitants had fiercely opposed inclusion of Tripoli into a “Greater Lebanon.” In the 1930s, Sunnis from Tripoli took part in an armed revolt against the prospect of a “Greater Lebanon,” demanding Tripoli’s inclusion with the Syrian cities of Homs, Hama and Aleppo into a separate Sunni Arab-nationalist autonomy.

While the birth of jihadism in Tripoli can be ascribed to the outset of the civil war in 1975, the beginning of the substantive shift in the character of Sunni Islam in Tripoli may be dated to 1947, when the Salafist Sheikh Salim al-Shahal returned from Saudi Arabia to Tripoli to find the first Wahhabi-orientated Salafist movement. During Lebanon’s civil war, Al-Jama’a — the Lebanese equivalent of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) — fragmented and splintered under the stress. With Syria’s intervention in Lebanon in 1976, a host of radical Al-Jama’a offshoots inspired by the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran sprang up. In 1982, these Al-Jama’a breakaway factions formed Harakat al-Tawhid al-Islami (the Islamic Unification Movement). The hardline MB offshoots, now united as “Tawhid,” then seized control of Tripoli from the Syrian-backed militia forces.

Strengthened by arms and training from the PLO and an influx of trained Syrian MB operatives after President Assad’s ferocious crushing of the MB revolt in Hama in February 1982, Tawhid forces imposed Islamic law at gunpoint in neighborhoods which they controlled. The “Islamic Republic” of Tripoli lasted for a period of two years (e.g. banning alcohol, forcing women to wear the veil, etc.). Dozens and dozens of secular political opponents (mostly Communists) were executed, sparking an exodus of Christians from the city. In subsequent years, Saudi influence in Tripoli predominated, and Tripoli spawned diverse Salafist groups — absorbing many MB members who survived the Syrian crackdown — and witnessed a progressive migration towards radical jihadism.

In short, were Aleppo and other parts of Syria and large swathes of Iraq to be “fracked,” then expect the same for Tripoli and north Lebanon too.

Posted: 06/01/2015 12:38 pm EDT Updated: 06/01/2015 12:59 pm EDT
RAMADI

Find this story at 1 June 2015

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Intrigue in Lebanon: Was Murdered Intelligence Chief a Hero or Double Agent?

In mid-October, a massive car bomb killed Wissam al-Hassan in downtown Beirut. The intelligence chief was buried as a hero and praised by the West for his help in investigating the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Or was he a double agent, possibly also active sometimes for the Syrians?

It’s a story of personal oaths of allegiance and clan loyalties, a story of war, betrayal and deceit, a story that could only be written about the Middle East. At the story’s center stand four men and two murders.

Rafik Hariri, a business tycoon worth billions, helped rebuild Lebanon after its bloody 15-year civil war. He was an important political leader of the country’s Sunnis and Lebanon’s prime minister for roughly a decade. In October 2004, he resigned to protest the string-pulling exerted by neighboring Syria and Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based Shiite militia bankrolled by Damascus. A few months later, on Valentine’s Day 2005, Hariri would die in a massive roadside bombing attack.

Saad Hariri, Rafik’s 42-year-old son and political heir, swore that he would get to the bottom of the murder and even availed himself of foreign assistance to do so. In 2007, the United Nations decided to set up a Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL). The tribunal has been operating from its headquarters near The Hague, in the Netherlands, since the spring of 2009. The younger Hariri came to be known as one of the leaders of the Cedar Revolution, which succeeded in driving almost all Syrian troops out of the country. Saad Hariri would serve as Lebanon’s prime minister from 2009 until 2011, when his coalition government collapsed. These days, he leads his opposition movement in exile from Paris.

Hassan Nasrallah, the 52-year-old head of Hezbollah, has oscillated between suppressed and open hostility with the Hariris. In addition to overseeing a militia that is stronger than Lebanon’s army, Nasrallah commands a powerful political organization. At the moment, his party essentially controls the government in Beirut, and he views himself as the only force fighting against “Zionist occupiers.” He also sees the STL as little more than an “American-Israeli conspiracy.”

And then there is Wissam al-Hassan, who is currently the main protagonist in this great game.

An Inside Job?

Al-Hassan was born in 1965 near Tripoli, Lebanon, into a Sunni clan that has enjoyed close ties with the Hariris. He became a member of Rafik Hariri’s security detail, eventually advancing to become his head bodyguard. Al-Hassan had taken off Feb. 14, 2005, the day that a massive car bomb exploded while Rafik Hariri’s motorcade was driving by, claiming at the time that he needed to study for a university exam. But this did not harm his career, and Saad Hariri would eventually elevate al-Hassan to the rank of brigadier general and a position as the country’s intelligence chief.

On Oct. 19, al-Hassan died in a car bomb attack that bore many similarities with the one that killed his boss seven years earlier: Both were in Beirut, both were in broad daylight, and both were carried out by professionals. Both attacks involved a huge amount of explosives that claimed the lives of many more people than just the intended targets.

Al-Hassan was given a hero’s burial and interred only a few steps from the grave of Rafik Hariri in a cemetery near Martyrs’ Square in central Beirut. The circumstances surrounding his death have given rise to a number of questions. In fact, some wonder whether the 47-year-old might have even been a double agent, someone who had switched allegiances once or perhaps even several times. And if this is true, they ask, what does that say about those suspected of killing him?

Whatever the answers might be, the terrorist attack of Oct. 19 continues to grow more and more mysterious, and the STL may consider investigating it. Responding to written questions, the International Criminal Tribunal says that one first needs to determine whether the attack was related to the Hariri bombing. Moreover, it adds that launching such an investigation would also require an expansion of the STL’s mandate by the United Nations and the Lebanese government, which covers 49 percent of the tribunal’s costs.

Sources close to the tribunal say that al-Hassan originally stood at the top of the list of suspects in the Hariri attack. Indeed, investigators found it rather odd that Hariri’s head bodyguard would go missing in action on the day he died. What’s more, they established that al-Hassan spoke on the phone 24 times on the morning of Hariri’s death even though he claimed he had to study for the university exam. An internal STL document says that al-Hassan’s statements are “not very convincing” and have led to doubts about his alibi.

Friends and Enemies

Still, the fact that he was far away when the attack occurred and that Saad Hariri believed his oath of loyalty was somehow enough to get al-Hassan out of the line of fire. Likewise, before long, he became the special tribunal’s most important informant, providing investigators with details about the type of explosive used and recordings from mobile phones at the scene of the attack. The phone calls would eventually be matched to four members of Hezbollah — and spell the downfall of them all.

In June 2011, the STL brought indictments against these four men, including Mustafa Badr al-Din, Nasrallah’s chief of intelligence. An enraged Nasrallah reacted by threatening to “cut off the hand” of anyone who tried to extradite him and the other men. The four have since disappeared and are rumored to have fled to Iran.

However, such investigations weren’t enough for al-Hassan. He soon became one of the most important political players in the region, forging some astonishing alliances along the way. For example, he arranged a meeting between Saad Hariri and Syrian President Bashar Assad. After the meeting, the former refrained from making any more vehement accusations that Syria was behind his father’s murder. What’s more, in a move that was highly unusual in terms of protocol, al-Hassan himself had a private conversation with Assad in Damascus.

At the same time, al-Hassan maintained extremely close ties with top-level officials in the intelligence apparatus of Saudi Arabia, which holds a critical stance toward the Syrian regime. Likewise, some Middle East insiders have even claimed that al-Hassan had ties to the Mossad, Israel’s foreign intelligence agency. He ultimately allayed these suspicions with deeds: Under his leadership, Lebanese intelligence blew the cover of an entire network of Israeli spies operating in the country.

In recent months, the restless Lebanese intelligence chief had turned his attention to rebel forces in Syria. Just last summer, he apparently set a trap for Ali Mamlouk, who would be promoted in July from chief of Assad’s general intelligence directorate to head of his national security council. Via intermediaries, al-Hassan encouraged Mamlouk to supply Michel Samaha, a former minister of information in Lebanon and staunch ally of the Syrian regime, with explosives to be used in attacks. Samaha was arrested in early August and reportedly confessed. It was a serious loss of face for Assad — and a plausible reason for taking out the supposed turncoat al-Hassan.

Possible Hezbollah Involvement

Hezbollah might have also had a hand in the terrorist attack on al-Hassan, whose cooperation with the tribunal had made him a sworn enemy of the “Party of God.” In any case, al-Hassan had surely received warnings about an attack. Two days before the assassination, he traveled to Paris to bring his family to safety. The next day, while returning to Syria, he made a stopover in Germany. There, he met with his German counterpart, the head of the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), for what was presumably a regularly scheduled talk.

In response to written questions, the STL confirms that the in absentia trial of the four Hezbollah members will begin on March 25, 2013, and that procedures allow “for evidence from unavailable persons to be admitted during the trial,” including that of al-Hassan. What’s more, the International Crimincal Court says that “Lebanon has an ongoing obligation to search for the accused” and the Lebanese authorities are obliged to report on a monthly basis. “We believe that justice should not be held hostage to the accused’s desire not to participate in the proceedings,” the tribunal wrote.

The FBI now has agents in Beirut to aid inthe investigation into al-Hassan’s murder. It has reportedly determined that the explosives used to kill al-Hassan bear similarities to the ones used in the Hariri assassination. The planning and execution of the attack are also thought to point to the same group of perpetrators.

Translated from the German by Josh Ward

11/05/2012 01:02 PM

By Erich Follath

Find this story at 5 November 2012

© SPIEGEL ONLINE 2012
All Rights Reserved
Reproduction only allowed with the permission of SPIEGELnet GmbH

Wissam al-Hassan: A Man Who Had Many Enemies

The fallout from the assassination of Internal Security Forces (ISF) Information Branch chief Wissam al-Hassan nearly two weeks ago was very similar to that following the series of assassinations that has rocked Lebanon since 2005.

Syria was blamed immediately, and those who expressed doubt were labeled collaborators. March 14 alluded to Hezbollah’s involvement as well. Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea even went as far as accusing Hezbollah directly.

Jumping to conclusions prevents honest dialogue. In reality, prior to his death, Hassan felt threatened by more than one party.

The intelligence chief made it clear that he feared a certain group within Hezbollah made up of “undisciplined elements who do not obey their leadership.”
People who knew Hassan heard him in recent years speak about those he thought wanted to kill him. Some of this information was based on analysis, but some of it was also based on data and facts on the ground.

Of course, Hassan had his suspicions regarding Syria’s role in Lebanon. Over the last few months, he became more apprehensive towards Syrian intelligence agencies. He would often mock their structural weaknesses, which became especially obvious following the arrest of former minister Michel Samaha [2] who was indicted for his involvement in “terror plots” in Lebanon on behalf of the Syrian regime.

Hassan also never hid his conviction that Hezbollah, along with Syria, was behind the assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri, but he was convinced it was the product of a conspiracy within the organization.

Hassan believed that Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah and assassinated Hezbollah military commander Imad Mughniyeh did not have prior knowledge of the killing and were not involved in it in any way.

The intelligence chief made it clear that he feared a certain group within Hezbollah made up of “undisciplined elements who do not obey their leadership.”

This apprehension did not prevent Hassan from cooperating with Hezbollah and even exchanging intelligence on several occasions.

While the Information Branch led the crackdown on Israeli spy networks over the last four years, the Resistance provided information that was crucial to their discovery.

“The are better than us in human intelligence gathering,” he would say of Hezbollah’s intelligence branch.

Hassan knew that the nature of his work made him a target. He often said that his job “left me without any friends.”

A few months ago, Hassan told people close to him about meetings he had with Jordanian officials, including the head of Jordanian intelligence, who he met in Germany, and a minister linked to Jordanian intelligence.

He said that each of them had relayed information – on separate occasions – about discussions with the Israelis regarding the situation in Lebanon.

As a result, both officials told Hassan that the Israelis do not look on him favourably and that he should be careful, even in Europe.

Hassan knew that the Israelis were after his neck. On several occasions, he reportedly said that he did not feel safe in Europe anymore.

He was aware of the damage done to Israel through the unraveling of its spy networks in Lebanon, starting in 2007 when the Intelligence Branch commenced its counter-intelligence operations.

Several US Senators explicitly informed Hassan that were facing Israeli pressure to stop their assistance to Lebanon.
Hassan also received a clear message from the US Congress, which cut back on some of the joint programs between his branch and its American counterparts. On one occasion, several US Senators explicitly informed Hassan that were facing Israeli pressure to stop their assistance to Lebanon.

But the clearest message came from the Jordanian intelligence officer he met with almost a year ago and whose warnings he took seriously.

Earlier this year, Hassan got another warning. In January 2012, he received a letter from the United Arab Emirates’ intelligence body saying they had credible information that a high ranking officer from the ISF would be targeted with a car bomb in Achrafieh on the road between the ISF headquarters and the officer’s safe house.

The information came as a surprise to Hassan, since he believed his safe house in Achrafieh was a secret. Even his closest aides were not informed of its location. He knew that the information from the UAE concerned him personally, the Achrafieh safe house being his own.

All he could do was leak the information to the press, to tell those who wanted to assassinate him that their plot had been discovered.

Urgent investigations conducted by the Information Branch did not show any suspicious activities in the area. But the precision of the information from the UAE led Hassan to treat it seriously.

The information was leaked to the press and treated, as usual, as fodder for internal Lebanese politicking. The Information Branch was accused of fabricating the information to use it to pry communications data [3] from telecom operators.

But for the security officers concerned with the investigation, the issue was critical. Hassan did not know who was behind the plot discovered by UAE intelligence.

He assumed it was related to Syrian intelligence operations. He remained convinced of this until he met a UAE intelligence official who told him that their information points to al-Qaeda, specifically one of their groups operating out of the Ain al-Helweh Palestinian refugee camp.

Wissam al-Hassan knew he had to stay a step ahead of his adversaries, some of whom remained a mystery even to him. He knew his enemies were many and that the last seven years of his life as a top intelligence chief only made him more of a target.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Published on Al Akhbar English (http://english.al-akhbar.com)

By: Hassan Illeik [1]

Published Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Find this story at 30 October 2012

 

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