Imad Mughniyeh was on the most-wanted list of the US for his alleged involvement in attack on Israeli targets [Reuters]

One of Hezbollah's senior military commanders, Imad Mughniyeh became known for his alleged involvement in several attacks on Western targets during the 1975-1990 civil war in Lebanon.

Nicknamed "The Fox", he was for several years one of the United States' most prized targets before his death in a car bomb blast in the Syrian capital, Damascus, on February 12.

Mughniyeh was born in Tayr Dibba, a village in southern Lebanon in 1962.

His family soon moved north to the capital, Beirut, settling in the Bir al-Abed district of the city.

Just 13-years-old when Lebanon's civil war broke out in 1975, Mughniyeh became a member of Force 17, the special forces unit of Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Fatah movement, a year later.

He is believed to have worked as a sniper during the fighting in the late 1970s, targeting Christian fighters on the Green Line dividing Muslim west Beirut from Christian east Beirut.

When the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) evacuated its members from Beirut in 1982 after the Israeli invasion in support of Christian Phalangist forces, Mughniyeh remained in the country.
 
Shortly afterwards he joined the nascent Hezbollah organisation, a Shia movement whose over-riding aim was to force Israel to pull out of Lebanon. He became a security guard for Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, a Lebanese Shia religious leader.

Foreign forces attacked

Shortly after hundreds of Palestinian civilians were massacred in Beirut's Sabra and Shatila camps in September 1982 by Lebanese Christian Phalange fighters, a multinational force which included French, Italian and US forces was dispatched to Lebanon to help restore order.

The multinational mission was thrown into turmoil by the April 18, 1983, bombing of the US embassy in Beirut and the simultaneous truck bombings of the US marines and French paratroopers' barracks on October 23, 1983.

Mughniyeh was alleged to have been involved
the bombing of a US marines' barracks in 1983

Mughniyeh was accused by the US of involvement in both the embassy bombing and the twin attacks on the barracks. The US also indicted him for his alleged involvement in the hijack of a TWA passenger aircraft in June 1985, in which an American passenger was killed.

A series of abductions of Westerners in Lebanon during the civil war, particularly the kidnapping of Terry Anderson, an American journalist, have been linked to Mughniyeh.

Although Hezbollah has consistently denied involvement in the bomb attacks and abductions in Lebanon during the 1980s, saying that Islamic Jihad carried them out, most analysts believe that Hezbollah was effectively an umbrella organisation for a number of small armed resistance groups at this time.

Argentina charged him for alleged involvement in two bombings in Buenos Aires - one at an Israeli embassy in 1992, which killed 29 people, and another at a cultural building in July 1994, which claimed 86 lives.

Elusive figure

In recent years, Mughniyeh was reported to have re-emerged as a key player within the Hezbollah leadership after being ordered by Iran, Hezbollah's backer, to re-organise the security wing of the organisation.

Attempts by the US and other countries to apprehend Mughniyeh repeatedly failed. On two separate occasions, France and Saudi Arabia thwarted US attempts to detain him.

Mughniyeh was added to the US Federal Bureau of Investigation's list of "most wanted terrorists" in October 2001, and a $5m bounty was offered for information that would lead to his arrest, yet he remained elusive.

It is not surprising that no Western power managed to capture Mughniyeh, considering his aptitude for security planning.

The news that he met his end in Syria, a key ally of Hezbollah, is an ironic blow for the Lebanese resistance group.

Source: Al Jazeera