- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 28, 2008

Top U.S. intelligence officials are warning that Lebanon’s terrorist Hezbollah organization is planning to retaliate against U.S. interests and Israel for a car bombing earlier this month in Syria that killed the group’s most elusive leader.

The FBI and Homeland Security Department issued a joint intelligence bulletin nationwide on Feb. 15, three days after terror leader Imad Mughniyeh was killed, The Washington Times has learned.

Another FBI bulletin, issued shortly afterward, asked law-enforcement community partners to be aware of any threats to Israeli or Jewish targets inside the U.S. Federal law-enforcement agencies are providing relevant information and asking community leaders to make appropriate decisions to secure their facilities, the bulletin stated.

FBI spokesman Richard Kolko said he could not comment on the bulletins but that “the FBI has engaged our 101 Joint Terrorism Task Force working with our law-enforcement intelligence community partners to be alert to any potential threats in the U.S.”

“At this point there is no imminent threat to the U.S. but in no way can we let our guard down,” he added.

The Feb. 15 bulletin, titled “Hezbollah threatens Israel Following Death of Terrorist Leader,” alerts law-enforcement officials nationwide to look for any suspicious activity.

The Times also has learned that all FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force groups were asked to review all case files for any threat information.

The FBI’s response was based on credible intelligence revealed yesterday by National Intelligence Director Michael McConnell, who told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Feb. 12 car bombing that killed Mughniyeh “will prompt retaliation against Israeli and potentially Jewish and U.S. interests” from Hezbollah.

“Hezbollah has publicly blamed Israel for the operation but said that other ‘arrogant powers,’ probably a reference to the United States, had sought to kill Mughniyeh,” Mr. McConnell told the panel. “Hezbollah has the ability to attack almost worldwide with little warning.”

Mughniyeh, one of the most wanted terrorists, oversaw all Hezbollah military, security and terrorist operations, Mr. McConnell said. He was actively training anti-U.S. militias in Iraq in 2006 and frequently traveled to Syria, U.S. officials told The Times.

Press reports from the Middle East said Mughniyeh was killed in an area of Damascus that is thought to be controlled by the Syrian military, and that he was known to carry an Iranian diplomatic passport.

“Hezbollah is a highly sophisticated organization and demonstrates the capability to mount operations far from the Middle East,” a U.S. official said. “Whoever Hezbollah perceives had a hand in Mughniyeh’s death should take the appropriate precautions.”

Despite being an Iran-backed Shi’ite organization, Hezbollah is responsible for helping organize Sunni-dominated al Qaeda with early support, but ties between the two terrorist groups “are not necessarily close,” U.S. officials said.

Mr. McConnell told Fox News Channel on Feb. 17 that while some states have accused Israel of the hit, “there’s some evidence that it may have been internal Hezbollah. It may have been Syria. We don’t know yet, and we’re trying to sort that out.”

Mughniyeh, who gained infamy in the West for the 1985 hijacking of TWA Flight 847, was responsible for more deaths of Americans and Israelis than any other terrorist except Osama bin Laden.

As a result of Mughniyeh’s killing, “the threat is higher to Israel. We also are watching,” Mr. McConnell said.

Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin, Israel’s military intelligence chief, told the Knesset foreign affairs and defense panel on Tuesday that Hezbollah is ready to retaliate but may wait until the end of the traditional 40-day mourning period.

Bill Gertz contributed to this report.

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