Hezbollah has called on the Libyan rebels to help uncover the fate of Moussa al-Sadr, a charismatic Shiite cleric who disappeared during a trip to Libya more than 30 years ago in a case that many blame on Moammar Gadhafi.
The mystery of the missing imam remains a burning issue for Shiites in Lebanon, including leaders of the powerful Hezbollah movement. Framed photos of al-Sadr adorn the shops and homes of Lebanese Shiites, and the day he was last seen, on Aug. 31, 1978, is marked annually in Lebanon.
Most of al-Sadr's followers are convinced Gadhafi ordered al-Sadr killed in a dispute over Libyan payments to Lebanese militias, but the imam's family argues he could still be alive in a Libyan jail.
Now that Gadhafi's regime appears to be crumbling, Lebanon's Shiite militant group Hezbollah told the rebels that the Lebanese "are looking to you" to locate the imam and his traveling companions.
"We are full of hope that they will be freed on your hands and returned to their families," according to the Hezbollah statement, which was issued late Monday.
Al-Sadr's family also released a statement addressed to the rebel leadership.
"We appeal to those who will take over in Libya after the collapse of the tyrant to give special attention to this case," the statement said.
Al-Sadr is one of the pioneers of Shiite empowerment that has become a force across the Middle East, spurred by the 1979 Islamic revolution in Shiite Iran and more recently by the rise to leadership of Iraq's majority Shiites after U.S. forces ousted Saddam Hussein and his Sunni Muslim-dominated regime.
Since al-Sadr's disappearance, Libya has always insisted the cleric and his two traveling companions left Tripoli on a flight to Rome and suggested he was a victim of a power struggle among Shiites.
A member of a clan known for its religious scholars, al-Sadr is a distant relative of Iraq's radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose Mahdi Army militia has fought the U.S. military and its Iraqi allies.