Mustafa Badreddine: The Ghost of Beirut Invisible No More

  Mustafa Badreddine photo

Cursed is the man who dies, but the evil done by him survives.
Abu Bakr

The results and handiwork of his evil have stretched across the Middle East for the last thirty-three years. Mustafa Amine Badredddine was born in 1961, within the municipality of Ghobeiri, Lebanon located halfway between downtown Beirut and the Beirut International Airport. Like many boys growing up in this area the Lebanese Civil War was not a faceless conflict. The Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila are not far from his boyhood home. At a young age Mustafa joined the PLO’s Fatah Movement but then joined what would become Hezbollah.

Very early on Mustafa became what Hezbollah called “an engineer” or what most would call a bomb maker. Mustafa would become what some called “Hezbollah’s best bomb maker ever.” In September 1983, the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) sent a cable to the Iranian Ambassador in Damascus to instruct Husayn al-Musawi to attack the U.S. Marines in Beirut. Musawi chose two of his most skilled operatives to overse and conduct this operation under the guidance of the Iranian Ambassador. One of the key founders of Hezbollah was the Iranian Ambassador Ali Akbar Mohtashemi who played a key role in supervising Mustafa Badreddine and Imad Mughniyeh.

On an October day, thirty three years ago Mustafa Badreddine was busy in the Bekaa Valley preparing two truck bombs. A suicide bomber would drive one truck into the nine story Drakkar Building housing French Paratroopers. The other suicide bomber would drive a big yellow Mercedes truck bomb into the Marine Barracks. On October 23, 1983, Badreddine’s work would kill 241 U.S. Marines and 58 French Paratroopers in Beirut, Lebanon. On that day President Reagan would note in his diary “We all believe Iranians did this bombing just as they did with our embassy last April.” The proxy war being waged between Iran and America was now full bore whether the Americans wanted to be engaged. The ghost of Beirut escaped the ruined Paris of the Middle East.

After the Beirut bombings, Badreddine went to Kuwait where he was part of the Kuwait 17. Fourteen Iraqis and three Lebanese terrorists would conduct a series of bombings inside Kuwait. The Kuwait 17 targeted the American and French Embassies, Kuwait Airport and a number of other targets. Badreddine was arrested and in March 1984 sentenced to death by a Kuwaiti Court for his role in these attacks. Over the next six years, Badreddine’s brother-in-law, Hezbollah leader Imad Mughniyeh would kidnap over 30 westerners demanding consistently seeking Badreddin’s release. But all of Mughniyeh’s efforts to free his brother-in-law would be fruitless.

In 1990, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and members of the Iraqi Republican Guard freed all those being held in Kuwait prisons unwittingly giving Badreddine his freedom. Badreddine immediately escaped to Iran where after recuperating he made his way back to Lebanon. Upon his return to Lebanon, Badreddine helped establish Hezbollah Unit 1800, a special unit that assisted Palestinian terrorists conduct operations. Later he helped establish the Hezbollah Unit 3800 along with Iranians which targeted Americans in Iraq.

As an experienced bomb maker Badreddine wasted no time thinking about how to kill Rafik Hariri. Why change tactics just because this next target had an experienced security detail. The operation would require a casing and surveillance network to rival any Badreddine had coordinated. On February 14, 2005, Badreddine’s bomb placed on a Mitsubishi Canter truck detonated and killed Rafik Hariri as his motorcade passed Beirut’s legendary St. George’s Hotel. Two legends of Beirut died that day but the ghost of Beirut vanished once again. Since Hezbollah was so interwoven into Lebanon, an impartial investigation by outsiders was the only way to learn the truth about who was responsible for this assassination of a noted Lebanese government official. The Special Tribunal for Lebanon in the Hague conducted the investigation and charged Badreddine and four others. The trial in absentia began on January 16, 2014, for Badreddine and the other indicted defendants. Badreddine, the ghost of Beirut and the other defendants had absconded or otherwise could not be found.

But a ghost can be found by friends who could locate him to party on a luxury yacht or dine in a chic Beirut restaurant. A couple years ago one of the few pictures of Badreddine emerged when he used an ATM machine in Beirut. Otherwise he remained a ghost in the midst of so many people looking for him. Over time even people trained in the art of tradecraft become complacent. It happens to the best of them.
When Imad Mughniyeh was killed in Syria in February 2008, Badreddine was tapped to replace his brother-in-law within Hezbollah. For whatever reason, the veteran Hezbollah bomb maker while he remained hard to find was becoming not so invisible any more. He was warned to tone down his public appearances which at times he seem to disregard believing the dozens of kunyas, cover stories and business fronts would provide him with an adequate layer of protection. Since 2012 Badreddine has played a crucial role coordinating Hezbollah activities in Syria. But the war had not gone the way it was planned. There were too many jihadi groups that didn’t kowtow to the ghost of Beirut. What was done in the glory days of resistance meant nothing now. Badreddine was not a ghost in Damascus and he had a larger group of enemies. ISIS, Al-Nusra, factions within Hezbollah, Clerical factions, the Russians, Syrians, Iranians, who to trust, who not to trust. Israel, the United States, Saudi Arabia, the Free Syrian Army, the list goes on and on. Terrorism, Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Hezbollah, the IRGC, Mustafa Badreddine and too many victims have all been tied together for over thirty-three years.

In January 2015, Badreddine skipped a meeting in which his nephew Jihad Mughniyeh and Gen. Mohammad Ali Allah-Dadi, a senior commander in the IRGC were killed in an airstrike by Israel. The ghost of Beirut had cheated death once more. But instead of going to ground Badreddin attended his nephew’s funeral. Who killed Mustafa Badreddine remains a mystery and really doesn’t matter. This ghost of Beirut should have been removed but over the years he had so much help. It is this assistance that enables terrorists to hide or remain hidden in plain sight. Those that offered this assistance are just as responsible.

America’s global war with terrorism began back in Beirut. Back then, very few people knew the name of Mustafa Badreddine. But today the ghost of Beirut is invisible no more, and more importantly he is just that a ghost, unable to cause evil ever again.

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