The Moslem extremists who claimed to have killed American marine Lt.Col. William Higgins last week, and now threaten other Western hostages, use names like the “Organization of the Oppressed on Earth” and the “Revolutionary Justice Organization.” But they form the terrorist core of a much larger movement dedicated to the creation of a revolutionary Islamic state in Lebanon. Hizbollah (the Party of God), is sponsored by the Iranians, led by clerics and served by zealots. And its activities in that wartorn country are not limited to terrorism: it devotes much of its attention to religious, social and political organization among Lebanon’s one million Shiites and expends much of its energy vying for dominance with the mainstream Amal organization.
Hizbollah’s 10,000-man militia has been largely expelled from Amal strongholds in south Lebanon after four years of almost continuous fighting. But it commands a strong following in the southern slums of Beirut and Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, which are nominally
under Syrian control. The Iranian connection is underscored by the presence of 2,000 Revolutionary Guards who are stationed in the ancient city of Baalbek, Hizbollah’s headquarters in the Bekaa. And pictures of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini invariably flank the party’s symbol: a blue-and-red globe with an upraised arm holding an automatic rifle surmounted by a verse from the Koran: “Lo the party of God, it is victorious.”
Underground: Hizbollah developed out of an underground movement in Iraq in the early 1970s that later surfaced in other parts of the Arab world. It was organized by Sheik Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, a Lebanese imam, or religious leader, who had studied theology in Baghdad under the then-exiled Khomeini. When the ayatollah came to power in Iran, his regime helped Hizbollah to develop its terrorist capabilities. Fadlallah is now described as the movement’s spiritual leader.
Another imam, Sheik Ibrahim Amin, calls himself “The Responsible,” and appears to be in charge of the political apparatus. Sheik Sobhi
Tofaili is in command of the Baalbek headquarters and is the party’s chief liaison with Tehran. He works closely with Iranian Interior Minister Ali Akbar Mohtashemi, who was Hizbollah’s principal fund raiser when he served as ambassador to Syria and directly supervised many of its early terrorist operations. It was Mohtashemi, not Iran’s newly elected President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who pledged revenge for Israel’s kidnapping of Sheik Abdel Kareem Obeid—resulting in the alleged execution of Higgins.
Suicide: Western intelligence sources say that Hizbollah has fewer than 150 actual terrorists, but their willingness to undertake suicide missions makes the organization one of the most dangerous groups in the world. They first gained international attention in 1983 with three suicide car-bombings in Beirut—at the American Embassy and the U.S. and French military barracks—killing at least 350 people. Then, they murdered American University president Malcolm Kerr in 1984, Briton Denis Hill in 1985 and French military attaché Christian Goutierre in 1986. Hizbollah operatives also hijacked three commercial airliners. As well, they hold most, and perhaps all, of the Westerners kidnapped in Lebanon.
Intelligence sources say that they have long suspected that one group was behind the hostage-takings. Last week, Israeli interrogators confirmed that Obeid had laughed when asked about the Revolutionary Justice Organization and the Organization of the Oppressed on Earth, saying that those two names were “just plucked out of the air.” Hizbollah attributes its other atrocities in Lebanon to the Islamic Holy War or the Soldiers of Justice. Hizbollah also has a close working relationship with Palestinian radicals, and it deals with both Libya and Syria.
Hizbollah’s manifesto says that the “roots of evil are in America,” which remains its principal target. The French are next on Hizbollah’s hit list because they imprisoned Anis Naccache, a Shiite assassin said to have been a personal favorite of Khomeini. Kuwait is on the list because it holds about 50 Lebanese Shiites. And West Germany earned Hizbollah’s enmity by jailing two convicted terrorists who turned out to be brothers of Abdel Hadi Hamadi, the group’s security chief in Beirut. And—while all those nations would clearly prefer not to have to contend with such a fearsome enemy—they have so far shown themselves incapable of eliminating the very real threat posed by Hizbollah.
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