19 U.S. Servicemen Lost Their Lives in 1996 Attack
The Christian Science Monitor says Ahmad Mughassil, the mastermind of the 1996 Khobar Towers attacks, was reportedly detained in Beirut and handed over to authorities in Saudi Arabia. (Christian Science Monitor, 27 August)
Mughassil has been indicted by a U.S. court as being the architect of the truck bomb attack that devastated the towers at a U.S. military base in Dhahran, killing 19 U.S. servicemen and injuring 372 people in June 1996. It was the deadliest blast against U.S. troops since the 1983 U.S. Marine barracks bombing in Beirut.
Mughassil was the military commander of Saudi Hezbollah, an Iranian Quds Force-backed extremist organization believed to be behind the attack. If confirmed, his arrest and extradition to Saudi Arabia would be a coup for the Saudi government and could be a disaster for Iran and the Quds Force if Mughassil cooperates with the authorities. The FBI had offered $5 million for his capture. Ash Sahrq al-Awsat said Mughassil has been sent to a U.S. military base in Saudi Arabia.
The Associated Press quoted an unidentified Saudi official as saying Mughassil, a Shia from Qatif in eastern Saudi Arabia, was arrested two weeks ago in Beirut after having arrived from Iran. He was attempting to reach the Hezbollah-dominated southern suburbs of Beirut when he was detained, the official told AP.
Matt Levitt, a counter-terrorism and intelligence expert at the Washington Institute, told CSM that Mughassil was living in Beirut prior to the 1996 attack and ran the Khobar operation from there. (Christian Science Monitor, 27 August)
Iran is reportedly the principal backer of Saudi Hezbollah, also known as Hezbollah al-Hijaz, as well as its powerful Lebanese counterpart. A 2001 federal indictment accused Mughassil and 12 other Saudi Hezbollah members of carring out the Khobar bombing. The indictment also provided details of the alleged links between Iran and the Saudi and Lebanese Hezbollah.
Iran has always denied any involvement in the Khobar Towers bombing.
File photo: A Saudi and a U.S. serviceman (r.) walk through the rubble in front of the Khobar Towers housing complex at a U.S. military base in Dhahran. 19 U.S. servicemen were killed when a truck bomb devastated the towers in June 1996. (Greg Marinovich/AP)