This disclosure comes a week after the termination of an international court backed by United nations Her investigation, which lasted 11 years, into an assassination Hariri, On the conviction of Salim Ayyash, aged 56, who is active inHezbollahAnd collaborator in the assassination.
The officials emphasized that the intercepted communications and other evidence not included in the court’s public procedures confirm the existence of an assassination unit that was behind a series of fatal car bombings targeting Lebanese military, political and journalists leaders for at least a decade.
Two former US officials said the intelligence assessments were shared privately with members of the court, although the data could not be used in public proceedings due to the risk of revealing classified sources and methods of gathering intelligence.
Although the composition of the assassination squad called “Unit 121” was changed, the common denominator was the participation of Ayyash, one of the four accused in the Hariri case, according to the officials.
Ayyash, whose whereabouts has not been publicly known, was convicted in absentia on 18 August by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, a Netherlands-based international court established to bring justice to the killing of the prime minister.
The Commission found that there was no evidence regarding the involvement of 3 other defendants in the case, namely: Asaad Sabra, Hassan Oneisi, and Hassan Habib Merhi.
The “Washington Post” newspaper indicated that the experts’ reports refute the speculation indicating that a team of “mercenaries” assassinated Hariri without a plan drawn up by Hezbollah.
“There is no doubt” about Hezbollah’s control of the assassination squad, said a former senior US national security official who was involved in gathering intelligence after the killing of Hariri. “Hezbollah is a very disciplined organization.”
The previously unknown “Unit 121” team has been linked to the killing of political and military figures, at the direction of Hezbollah, according to officials with highly sensitive intelligence about the militant group and its operations.
Assassinations team in Hezbollah
One of the officials said, “It is a very secret unit that includes dozens of activists, and is completely separate from anything else, and receives direct orders from (Hezbollah leader) Hassan Nasrallah,” based on intelligence results shared by the countries allied with the United States in the years following the assassination. According to the newspaper.
Among the small cadre of Hezbollah leaders who previously authorized the killings, the security official said, was Mustafa Badr al-Din, Hezbollah’s military commander, whom the court accused of being one of the alleged planners to assassinate Hariri.
It is noteworthy that Badr al-Din was killed in Syria in 2016, and the indictment indicating that he was a suspect was dropped.
The security official identified 4 of the victims of “Unit 121” specialized in assassinations with Hezbollah, and they are the Lebanese investigator in the case of the killing of Hariri, Wissam Eid, the Brigadier General of the Lebanese Army and Hariri’s security chief, Wissam al-Hassan, the Lebanese Major General Francois al-Hajj, and the economist and diplomat Muhammad Chatah.
All of them were killed in car bombings in attacks between 2007 and 2013.
Major General Ashraf Rifi, the former director general of the Lebanese Internal Security Forces, confirmed in an interview that there is “a group within Hezbollah responsible for the operations and assassinations,” including the killing of Hariri and the car bombs that targeted other leaders.
Rifi said, “Ayyash was part of that circle.”
Unique missions and isolation for leaders
According to the American newspaper, experts in the United States have not questioned that the group’s leaders routinely use targeted killings to eliminate rivals and presumed enemies.
Matthew Levitt, a former FBI and Treasury counterterrorism analyst and author of a book on terrorist operations for Hezbollah, said the group is highly experienced bomb-making, and has a complex command structure designed to isolate top officials from the charges.
Levitt added, “Hezbollah has designated specialized units to carry out unique tasks, some of which are time-bound and others are related to a specific skill set or type of mission.” The political assassinations unit in Hezbollah is an example of this.
Many current and former officials and Hezbollah analysts have expressed their concerns that the militia leaders may launch new attacks, targeting political leaders and potential opponents in Lebanon, and perhaps abroad.
Analysts said the drive to silence critics of the Hezbollah militia may be stronger now amid political unrest in the wake of the Beirut port bombing, which killed nearly 200 people and destroyed dozens of buildings.
Robert Baer, a former CIA officer in the Middle East who spent part of his career tracking the rise of Hezbollah in Lebanon, said: “Anyone who tries to implicate Hezbollah in the explosion will have a target on the back … They are very smart and they know who their enemies are.” . “