Scratch one terrorist from the FBI's Most Wanted list. An explosion killed Hezbollah leader Imad Mughniyeh, one of the planners of the 1983 bombings in Beirut that killed 241 Marines and another 63 people at our embassy in Lebanon. He also took part in the 1985 TWA hijacking that resulted in the beating death of Navy diver Robert Stethem:
A senior Hezbollah commander implicated in some of the most high-profile international terrorist attacks of the last 25 years has died in an explosion in Syria, Hezbollah TV said Wednesday.
Imad Mughniyeh was suspected by Western intelligence agencies in the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, which killed 63 people, as well as the truck bombing that year of the U.S. Marine barracks there, an attack that killed 241 people and preceded the U.S. military withdrawal from Lebanon, according to a CNN report from 2001.
The FBI listed Mughniyeh as one of its "Most Wanted Terrorists," blaming him for his role in the June 14, 1985, hijacking of TWA 847, a terrorist episode that captivated television viewers in the United States and around the world for more than two weeks.
Hijackers seized the plane as it traveled from Athens, Greece, to Rome, Italy, and forced it to land at the airport in Beirut, starting a 17-day ordeal during which a U.S. Navy diver, Robert Dean Stethem, was shot and killed.
Hezbollah immediately blamed Israel for the bombing. Israel denies any role in the car bombing, details of which have not been forthcoming from Syria. They certainly had reason to go after Mughniyeh themselves. He planned the attacks on Israel's Argentina embassy and a Jewish center in Buenos Aires over two years that killed more than 100 people.
Car bombings aren't exactly Israel's style, though; that sounds much more like Syria's military. They have employed that method a number of times in Lebanon against anti-Syria politicians. The most famous of these assassinations occurred three years ago tomorrow, when a massive car bomb killed former prime minister Rafik Hariri. Could Bashar Assad have decided that Mughniyeh presented a threat to him, or that Mughniyeh was more trouble than he was worth as they try to make Hezbollah more presentable as a political party?
One thing is certain: the timing could not have been worse. Tomorrow, the Lebanese will demonstrate in remembrance of Hariri's death, and as Andrew Exum notes, Hezbollah's anger over the death of their chief terrorist could provide a flashpoint for renewed violence. It will also complicate the negotiations for power sharing in Lebanon. It could lead to a complete political breakdown and a return to civil war, if cooler heads do not prevail.
Hezbollah has no reason to stamp its feet, however. They live through terrorism, and when their enemies strike back, they have no one to blame but themselves. Good riddance to Mughniyeh, and may the rest of Hezbollah's terrorists go out the same way -- and soon.