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Saturday, 13 October, 2001, 17:59 GMT 18:59 UK
Lebanon nervous over Hezbollah link
Men at prayer in Beirut, Lebanon
Lebanon fears the US will retaliate if they are implicated
By the BBC's Kim Ghattas in Beirut

The inclusion of three Lebanese men on the list of the 22 most wanted terrorists published by the FBI two days ago has brought back memories of days that the Lebanese would rather forget.

One of the men, Imad Mughniyyeh, is accused of being behind the US marines headquarters bombing in Beirut in 1983 which killed 190 Americans, the TWA hijacking in 1985 and Western hostage taking during the 80s.

Mughniyyeh is the US's most wanted man after Osama Bin Laden.The other two men, Hassan Ezzedine and Ali Atweh are wanted for their involvement in the TWA hijacking. All three are suspected of links with Hezbollah.

Their whereabouts are unknown, but there are theories about Mughniyyeh living in Iran since the Lebanese civil war ended in 1990.

The reopening of files the Lebanese Government thought were long closed is a source of worry here and Lebanese newspapers highlighted this concern in their Friday edition.

Man reading in a paper in Beirut
Washington has not yet confirmed that the hunt for suspects will include Lebanon
"Will Washington demand from Lebanon to track them down, try them or extradite them?" said the conservative daily An-Nahar. "And what will happen if this cannot be done?" These are the nagging questions worrying the Lebanese authorities.

There has been no word yet from Washington about a world-wide manhunt, only a promise of $5m for anyone with information on any of the 22 men.

Hezbollah link

The Lebanese government might find itself in a tight spot if there is proof that the three men are linked to Hezbollah.

The guerilla group, long listed as a terrorist organisation by the US, is hailed in Lebanon as the national resistance and is credited for ousting the Israelis from south Lebanon last May.

Since the 11 September, the Lebanese government along with Syria and Iran - both backers of Hezbollah - have repeatedly asserted that a difference needs to be made between terrorism and national resistance.

In Beirut, a Hezbollah spokesperson maintained that the group had nothing to do with the three men.

The Party of God has always denied involvement in the bombings, hijackings and kidnappings, pointing out that these events predate Hezbollah's creation in 1985.

But, say observers familiar with the Lebanese civil war, the future leaders of Hizbollah were already active then.

Mughniyyeh is usually referred to as a member of Hezbollah's security apparatus but his relationship with the Party of God is possibly looser than that, more in the form of a freelancer who gets commissioned by various parties with the same aims.

Bin Laden connections

Investigation into the East African bombings of 1998 have also revealed links between him and Bin Laden. They reportedly met in Sudan in 1994, despite theoretical religious animosity - Mughniyyeh is a Shiite and Bin Laden a Sunni.

Bin Laden seems to have been inspired by Mughniyyeh's success in driving the Americans out of Beirut with his 1983 bombing. Bin Laden's main professed aim is to drive the "army of infidels" out of holy Islamic land, Saudi Arabia.

The East African bombings and the 1996 bombing of the Khobar towers in Saudi Arabia resembled the bomb attack against the US marines in Beirut in many ways.

See also:

10 Oct 01 | Americas
America's 'most wanted terrorists'
01 Aug 01 | Middle East
Lebanon rejects observers
23 Jul 01 | Middle East
The next Middle East flashpoint?
16 Apr 01 | Middle East
Syria: The power in Lebanon
15 Apr 01 | Middle East
Hezbollah condemned for attacking Israel
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