Sunday, February 17, 2008

'The Fox' Is Killed

..."The Fox" (or) Mugniyah, who by the mid-1980s was being hunted by the world's most powerful intelligence agencies for his role in a string of bombings, kidnappings and hijackings, would choose a different safe house—and a different persona—for each encounter. Sometimes he would show up wearing a Western-style business suit, other times a simple pair of blue jeans, but never a uniform that would betray him as one of the guerrilla force's most prominent tacticians. "It wasn't just plastic surgery," says Mohammad Yassin, a Palestinian leader in Lebanon who met frequently with Mugniyah during the 1980s and 1990s. "It was masks, it was mustaches, it was hair." Sometimes the militant would playfully pinch his own cheek, signaling that it was really him. Such meetings continued, intermittently, for nearly 20 years. Then, one day in the late 1990s, according to Yassin, "he just disappeared completely."

Somebody found Mugniyah last Tuesday night, as he pulled open the door of his black Mitsubishi Pajero in a wealthy suburb of Damascus. The force of a powerful car bomb flung his body into the lobby of a nearby apartment complex, severing his limbs and showering the street with glass. "The brother commander Hajj Imad Mugniyah became a martyr at the hands of the Zionist Israelis," the Hizbullah-controlled Manar TV station reported on Wednesday morning. Israeli officials issued something of a nondenial denial: "Israel rejects the attempt by terror groups to attribute to it any involvement in this incident," Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office said. "We have nothing further to add." The truth is, it may never be known who pressed the detonator; by the time of his death Mugniyah had collected many enemies. The FBI had placed Mugniyah on its 25 Most Wanted list after the hijacking of TWA Flight 847 in 1985, offering a $5 million bounty for his capture. "There are many intel agencies who had a score to settle with this guy—including the U.S.," says Yossi Alpher, a former Mossad official. "This guy had it coming to him."

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