Reputed Kidnap Kingpin Reported in Tehran
NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) _ The reputed leader of the Shiite Muslim extremists who held Westerners hostage in Lebanon has moved to Tehran, apparently fearing for his safety now that the last of his captives have been freed, sources say.
Imad Mughniyeh left Lebanon for the Iranian capital before the Dec. 4 release of the last American hostage, journalist Terry Anderson, said a Shiite source with close contacts with Shiite fundamentalists in Lebanon.
The source, whose information has previously been accurate, spoke Monday on condition of anonymity.
Abdul-Hadi Hamadi, leader of a Shiite clan allied to Mughniyeh that is believed to be holding the last two Western hostages, was also in Tehran recently but returned to Beirut, the source said.
A second source, also previously reliable, said there were unconfirmed reports that Mughniyeh had left for Tehran because Beirut was considered dangerous for him.
The body of one American hostage who died in captivity, Marine Lt. Col. William Higgins, was to be returned to the United States today. It was dumped on a Beirut roadside late Saturday.
Higgins’ remains were expected to arrive at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware this afternoon, said base spokesman Capt. Christian Geisel. He is to be buried at Quantico Marine Base in Virginia, Geisel said.
Mughniyeh and his lieutenants have long been considered prime targets for U.S., Israeli, French and British intelligence agencies - which made no known moves against the hostage-takers while they still held their bargaining chips.
The Sunday Times of London on Dec. 8 quoted Israeli intelligence sources as saying 30 to 40 of the kidnappers had fled to Iran for protection and new identities.
The Shiite source could not confirm that. But he said Mughniyeh, a 29-year- old Lebanese, moved his wife Saada, and two children, Fatima, 7, and Mustafa, 4, to Tehran in September.
That was when the final phase of the hostage saga got under way with negotiations by U.N. mediator Giandomenico Picco.
Mughniyeh was for years chief of security with Lebanon’s Hezbollah, or Party of God, the Iranian-backed fundamentalist faction considered the parent organization for hostage-holding groups.
Western intelligence officials say he heads Islamic Jihad, or Holy War, which is considered Hezbollah’s strike arm and is tightly linked with other kidnap groups. His current status with Hezbollah is not known.
Details of the agreement worked out by Picco with the kidnap factions are not known.
Shiite sources say the kidnappers demanded immunity from arrest and security for themselves and their families once all hostages were freed. But as far as is known, the United States refused to grant the kidnappers any immunity, Lebanese and Syrian sources say.
Three of the 17 Americans kidnapped in Lebanon between 1984 and 1988 were killed or died in captivity. Two apparently escaped and the rest were all released.
The U.S. Justice Department issued an arrest warrant for Mughniyeh and three other Shiite fundamentalists in 1985, naming them as suspects in the hijacking of a TWA airliner in June that year.
In that episode, the hijackers killed a U.S. Navy diver and held 39 Americans hostage for 17 days before Syrian intervention freed them.
Only one of that quartet has been arrested and convicted. Muhammed Ali Hamadi, Abdul-Hadi’s brother, was sentenced to life imprisonment by a Frankfurt court in 1987 for the TWA hijacking.
Two West German aid workers, Heinrich Struebig and Thomas Kemptner, remain in captivity in Lebanon. They are believed held by the Hamadi clan, who want to exchange them for Muhammed Ali Hamadi and his brother Abbas, who is serving a 13-year prison term in Germany for terrorist crimes.
With the identification of Higgins’ remains, all but one American captive has been accounted for. The body of CIA station chief William Buckley has not been recovered.
Higgins, a Marine officer from Danville, Ky., was abducted Feb. 17, 1988, while commanding a 76-member U.N. observer group on the Lebanon-Israel border. He was the last American seized in Lebanon by Shiite kidnappers.
The Organization of the Oppressed on Earth claimed July 31, 1989, that it hanged Higgins, a 44-year-old Vietnam veteran, in retaliation for Israel’s abduction of a Shiite cleric, Sheik Abdul-Karim Obeid. The group released a videotape showing a hanged man and said it was Higgins.
U.N. sources in Lebanon have said they believed Higgins died of torture in December 1988 after an escape attempt.