Mysterious Hezbollah leader killed in attack on Syrian army base
Published 14/05/2016 | 02:30
One of the Middle East's most charismatic and mysterious guerrilla leaders has been killed in a explosion of unknown origin on an air base in Syria, the militant group Hizbollah has confirmed.
Mustafa Badreddine (55), who was directing the group's operations in support of the Assad regime, was the highest ranking leader of the group to have died since his cousin and brother-in-law, its military commander, was assassinated in Damascus by Mossad in 2008.
Initial claims that Israel had killed Badreddine too were withdrawn, and the Hezbollah statement, which did not give a date or time of his death, said it was investigating whether it was the result of an air raid, missile attack or artillery shelling.
Hezbollah, which has fought several wars against Israel, has been fighting alongside Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces.
Whoever killed him - and his enemies included Gulf states and rebel groups in Syria as well as Israel - brought to an end the career of a man once seen as a ghostly presence in Hezbollah's command, who was reported to have no passport, driving licence or property in Lebanon, yet who had a string of mistresses and drove around the Christian seaside resort of Jounieh in a large Mercedes.
He is thought to have joined his first militant group in the 1970s as a teenager, before going on to help found Hizbollah, a militant, Iranian-backed Shia Islamist group that emerged from the Lebanese civil war.
He may have honed his skills as a bomb-maker in the attacks on the US and French military barracks in Beirut in 1983, which killed 305 people.
That was masterminded by Imad Mugniyeh, his cousin and brother-in-law, Hizbollah's military chief and his mentor in the organisation, with whom he has said to have watched the explosions from a nearby rooftop.
A year later, Badreddine personally supervised the bombing of the US embassy in Kuwait, which killed six people. He was caught, jailed and sentenced to death. Luckily for him, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990 and he was freed, escaping to the Iranian embassy which arranged his evacuation to Tehran and then back to Beirut.
He went on to direct operations against Israel in the south of Lebanon, culminating in the war of 2006, seen by many as Hizbollah's biggest victory over its great enemy.
At the time of his death he was standing trial in absentia at the Hague for organising the killing of Rafik Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister and dominant Sunni politician.