FBI-wanted terrorist in Saudi custody

Friday 28/08/2015
June 1996 file photo shows site of bomb-damaged Khobar Towers

LONDON - A 19-year manhunt ended when the main suspect in the 1996 Khobar Tow­ers bombing was ap­prehended by Lebanese authorities and extradited to Saudi Arabia, a pan-Arab newspaper re­ported.

The Saudi-owned Asharq Al-Aw­sat newspaper reported that leader of Hezbollah al-Hejaz Ahmed al- Mughassil, who was found guilty in a US court of masterminding the attack that killed 19 US mili­tary personnel and wounded 500 others, was arrested in Beirut and transferred to Riyadh. It did not say when the arrest and extradition took place.

“The discovery of Mughassil and his arrest in Lebanon and his sub­sequent transfer to Saudi Arabia is a qualitative achievement, for the man had been in disguise,” Asharq al-Awsat quoted an unnamed secu­rity official as saying.

Mughassil, a 48-year-old Saudi national who was on the FBI’s Most Wanted List and had a $5 million bounty on his head, led the Saudi offshoot of the Iran-sponsored militant group Hezbollah and is be­lieved to have planned the Khobar operation while in Tehran.

In 2001, the US government in­dicted 14 members of Hezbollah and a number of Iranian officials for the 1996 bombing. According to the indictment, 13 members of the Saudi-branch of Hezbollah, with support from an unnamed member of the Lebanese section of the movement, conducted sur­veillance of US operations as early as 1993 with the help of Iranian military and government officials and planned the bombing to drive Americans from Saudi Arabia.

In 2006, a US federal judge ruled Iran responsible for the Khobar Towers bombing and ordered its government to pay $254 million to the families of Americans killed in the attack.

Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Co­operation Council (GCC) members have long complained of Iranian interference, ranging from the sup­port of dissidents to terrorist opera­tions such as the Khobar bombing.

In mid-August, security services in Kuwait intercepted a large arms cache and detained three individu­als suspected of belonging to a Hez­bollah cell, who, according to local media, were plotting to destabilise the country.

According to the Kuwaiti Interior Ministry, police found 56 rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) shells and various types of ammunition at a farm on the Kuwait-Iraq border be­longing to one of the suspects. The ministry also seized weapons, am­munition and explosive material in the homes of the other suspects.

Authorities said the men con­fessed to being members of a ter­rorist organisation and led secu­rity forces to their arsenal where 19,000 kg of ammunition, 144 kg of explosive materials, three RPGs and 204 grenades and detonators were seized.

Kuwaiti authorities did not state what terrorist organisation the men confessed to belonging to, however local media reported that the suspects were part of a cell af­filiated with Hezbollah. Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Anba reported that the weaponry was moved into the country from Iraq while the al-Rai and al-Qabas dailies, citing un­named sources, reported the arms entered Kuwait by sea from Iran.

The frenzied coverage of the ar­rests resulted in Kuwait’s public prosecutor issuing a gag order re­garding information related to the raid. The Kuwait News Agency quoted Public Prosecutor Dherar al-Asousi as saying the blackout was due to media reports that “harm” national unity and could “negatively impact” the investiga­tion. However, he did not dismiss local reports of the raid.

Kuwait and Hezbollah share a tragic history dating to 1983, when Hezbollah operatives and members of the Iraqi Dawa affiliated with Iran carried out a number of bomb­ings, which resulted in the death of six people. The coordinated at­tacks targeted Western embassies, the Kuwait airport and an oil rig belonging to the Kuwait National Petroleum Company, among other targets.

In June, Saudi Arabia designated two high-ranking Hezbollah of­ficials as terrorists, accusing the members of the Lebanese Islamist militia of spreading chaos and in­stability in the Middle East. At the time the kingdom identified Khalil Youssef Harb and Mohammed Qa­balan, who were also designated as terrorists by the United States in 2013, for what it described as over­seeing “violent operations” in the Middle East.