Hezbollah Says Top Commander Killed in Explosion in Syria

Updated on
  • Group calls Mustafa Badereddine a ‘great jihadi leader’
  • Baderdeddine led Hezbollah operations in Syria, U.S. said

Hezbollah’s top commander in Syria, Mustafa Badereddine, was killed in an explosion near the Damascus International Airport in a major setback for the Iran-backed Lebanese militant group fighting alongside Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Describing him as a “great jihadi leader,” a Hezbollah statement on Friday said a preliminary investigation couldn’t determine the source of the explosion. In December, Hezbollah said an Israeli airstrike had killed another senior member of the group, triggering a brief exchange of rockets and artillery across the Israeli-Lebanon border.

Addressing supporters at Badereddine’s funeral in Beirut’s southern suburbs, Hezbollah’s deputy chief Naim Qassem said the blast was huge and that results of the group’s fuller investigation would be announced by Saturday. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in a message to Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah that Badereddine’s death “will certainly stiffen the Lebanese resistance movement’s determination to fight the Israeli regime and terrorism,” according to Press TV.

Mustafa Badereddine

Source: Hezbollah media office

Badereddine, 55, had been responsible for Hezbollah’s operations in Syria since 2011 in support of Assad’s government forces, the U.S. Department of the Treasury said last year.

He was indicted by the United Nations-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005. Badereddine was also suspected of involvement in bombings of the U.S. and French embassies in Kuwait in the 1980s.

He’s the latest in a string of key Hezbollah military commanders to be killed, including his brother-in-law, Imad Mughniyeh, one of the group’s top officials who was indicted in the U.S. for the 1985 hijacking of a Trans World Airlines Inc. jetliner. Mughniyeh was killed in Damascus in 2008 while his son, Jihad, perished in an Israeli strike that also killed other Hezbollah fighters in Syria last year.

War Progress

The killing of Badereddine delivered “another blow” to the group, Sami Nader, head of the Beirut-based Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs, said by phone. “This has a negative impact on its constituency, its political base, its invincible image,” Nader said. “It shows how vulnerable it’s getting by the day.”

In Syria, Assad has gained the upper hand in a five-year war with his opponents, helped by the deployment of Russian air power last year and the stepped-up backing of Hezbollah and Iranian forces. World leaders are expected to meet in Vienna on May 17 to inject new momentum into stalled peace talks.

Regional rivals of the Syrian president and Iran, led by Saudi Arabia, have sought to pressure Hezbollah and Lebanese authorities. The Gulf Cooperation Council has branded Hezbollah a terrorist group, and Saudi leaders scrapped $4 billion in pledged military aid to Lebanon, citing the Hezbollah’s prominent role in national affairs.

Bank Curbs

The group is also under financial pressure after the U.S. sought to dry up its sources of funding with the Hizballah International Financing Prevention Act of 2015, which imposes sanctions on banks that do business with the militants.

Lebanon’s central bank this month ordered the nation’s lenders to abide by the U.S. regulations, prompting Hezbollah to criticize the move and ask Governor Riad Salameh to reverse it.

Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc said Thursday demand would “push the country
toward bankruptcy.”

Some Lebanese banks have already taken measures against Hezbollah members, the Assafir newspaper reported on Friday, closing the accounts of Hezbollah lawmakers and declining to open new ones for others, the paper said, citing Minister Hussein Hajj Hasan during a cabinet meeting. Bank accounts of social and religious institutions run by people close to the group have also been closed, the paper said, citing the minister.