Prisoner in Syria says he aided Hezbollah killing

AP News
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Posted: Sep 17, 2011 3:34 PM
Prisoner in Syria says he aided Hezbollah killing

A Jordanian-Palestinian man told Syrian TV on Saturday that he gave Israeli agents vital information that led to the 2008 assassination of a top Hezbollah military commander in Damascus.

Ayad Youssef Nueim, 35, who is in prison in Syria for allegedly spying for Israel, said the Israeli Mossad spy agency wanted information about an SUV that turned out to belong to Imad Mughniyeh, the Hezbollah commander.

The assassination of Mughniyeh in a car bomb blast in Damascus was one of the biggest blows to Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group with strict security and which boasts of being nearly impenetrable to spies.

Hezbollah has blamed Israel for the killing, but Israel never acknowledged involvement.

It was not immediately clear why Syrian TV conducted the interview now, years after the killing. But the regime of President Bashar Assad, facing a 6-month-old uprising, has blamed the unrest on a foreign conspiracy and the hidden hand of archenemy Israel.

It was also impossible to know if Nueim was speaking freely in the interview, or if he was being coerced into making the statements.

Nueim said he was sent to Syria in 2006 posing as a student. He said Israeli agents asked him for general information about whether weapons were being smuggled into the country and whether militants were gathering.

On Feb. 12, 2006, hours before Mughniyeh was killed, he was dispatched to a specific home in Damascus to look for a Pajero.

"I called and told them about the Pajero and its number then left the area," he said.

He added: "As I read the news on the Internet the next day I found out that martyr Imad Mughniyeh was assassinated. It was the same Pajero."

After he heard the news, Nueim said he went to Jordan and then to Jerusalem where he asked the agents to change his telephone number. He was given a French SIM card and returned to Syria, where he continued supplying information to Israel until the Syrians captured him. He did not say when or where he was captured.

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Bassem Mroue can be reached at http://twitter.com/bmroue