Israel suggests two others as atrocity 'masterminds'

Terror in America: The Organisation
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The Independent Online

Two new names were put in the frame yesterday as possible masterminds for last week's terrorists attacks in the US, joining the prime suspect, Osama bin Laden.

Imad Mughniyeh, head of special overseas operations for the Lebanese group, Hizbollah, and Dr Ayman Al Zawahiri, a senior bin Laden aide, were named as two terrorists capable of planning the atrocities. Jane's, the respected defence publisher, quoted Israeli intelligence sources as believing the two men led the suicide assaults. Officers from Aman, the Israeli military intelligence operation, were also said to have named Iraq as having sponsored the onslaught.

Mr Mughniyeh is one of the world's most wanted men and has a $2m (£1.3m) reward on his head in the US. He is wanted in connection with a series of incidents, including the kidnap, torture and murder – said to have been at his own hands – of the Beirut CIA chief William Buckley, and the abduction and seven-year confinement of the American Terry Anderson.

The bombing of the Israeli embassy in Argentina, in which 92 people died, has been attributed by Western authorities to Mr Mughniyeh. He is wanted by Argentina in connection with that attack. Mr Mughniyeh, 48, is thought by security agencies to be capable of matching Mr bin Laden for audacity and to outstrip him for barbarity.

In 1997, Mr Mughniyeh came close to blowing up a packed El-Al airliner over Tel Aviv in another suicide mission. A passenger travelling on a forged British passport was seriously injured when a bomb he was carrying accidentally went off before he could board the plane. The passenger, who turned out to be Lebanese, later named Mr Mughniyeh as having planned the bombing as a spectacular "gift" to the people of Israel.

Two of Mr Mughniyeh's brothers were killed by Americans and the Israeli sources said that as well as having a developed hatred of the US he is a psychopath.

"Bin Laden is a schoolboy in comparison with Mughniyeh," the magazine quoted an Israeli source. "The guy is a genius, someone who refined the art of terrorism ... We studied him and reached the conclusion that he is a clinical psychopath motivated by uncontrollable psychological reasons."

Mr Mughniyeh, who is now thought to be back in Lebanon, has reportedly made secret trips to Germany. Several of last week's hijackers met there before travelling to the US.

According to Aman, Mr Mughniyeh and Mr Al Zawahiri have been in regular touch with the Iraqi intelligence service, SSO. Qusai Hussein, son of the Iraqi dictator, is thought by Western agencies to run SSO. Jane's quotes Israeli sources as believing that Iraq changed tack recently and decided to enter the terror business.

Middle East experts were sceptical about the likelihood of Mr Mughniyeh being behind last week's carnage. They said it suited Israel's agenda to link these attacks with its own enemies, the Hizbollah and Iraq. The Hizbollah's spiritual leader had publicly condemned the US attacks and so far, it would appear the hijackers were Sunni Muslims, when Mr Mughniyeh was a Shia.