Mercedes memorial to the death of a 'martyr'

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The Independent Online
As shrines go, it must be one of the world's most macabre. You come across it quite unexpectedly in the centre of this scruffy Shia Muslim village, its fields dusted with snow below the Anti-Lebanon mountain range. "The shrine of the martyr Sayed Hassan Moussawi," it says above a concrete arch, and just to the right - in front of the still unfinished mosque erected to his memory - is the glass-entombed, rocket-shattered remains of the armoured Mercedes 280 in which the Hizbollah leader met his end.

"We felt it a good thing to show the manner of his martyrdom," Ali Moussawi says, pointing through a broken pane of glass to the wicked shards of black steel that were once the rear of the Mercedes. "This is exactly where he was sitting with his wife and five-year-old son when the missile struck. They were burned alive. Soon we will have a museum to Sayed Moussawi at the mosque as well."

Perhaps half the population of the dead Hizbollah leader's home village of Nabi Chit carry his family name, and the guardian of the shrine is no different. Ali Moussawi points to the front of the Mercedes, wiping the dust from the glass tomb - a kind of black-framed greenhouse that covers the wrecked vehicle - and shakes his head. "The driver escaped alive, also the bodyguard." Hard to believe, but true. When the Israeli helicopter pilot loosed his American-made "fire-and-forget" missile at the Mercedes as it travelled back from the south Lebanese village of Jibchit in February 1992, the car was engulfed in a fireball. Yet the driver and front seat passenger were blown from the vehicle. Moussawi and his family bore the force of the explosion, just where the metal inside the glass tomb appears to have been torn apart by a can opener. "He talked of dying just before his last trip to talk to the wife of an Imam kidnapped by the Israelis," Ali Moussawi says. "He always talked of dying."

Sayed Moussawi was 39 when he was killed. He had been elevated to the chairmanship of the pro-Iranian Hizbollah only a year earlier. He had taken the militia away from its campaign of anti-Western kidnappings, concentrating instead on its war against Israeli occupation in southern Lebanon. That may have been his undoing. Hizbollah remains an arm of Iranian intelligence, its theology inspired by the teachings of Shia scholars like Ayatollah Bakr Sadr of Iraq. Sayed Moussawi was himself trained the Iraqi city of Najaf under Bakr Sadr, who was later hanged by Saddam Hussein along with his sister. Moussawi was on holiday in Nabi Chit when a messenger came from Baghdad telling him never to return to Iraq. Under his Hizbollah successor, Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, the movement has killed more than 30 Israeli soldiers inside southern Lebanon in the past 12 months.

Five Hizbollah militamen lie buried beside Sayed Moussawi's mosque, four of them killed in a pitched battle with the Israelis near the village of Maidoun. Plastic flowers decorate their graves along with snapshots of unsmiling, bearded men who were, as it says on their headstones, "shot by the enemy's bullets". No armoured limousine for them.

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