FBI-wanted terrorist in Saudi custody
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.