Despite Clinton Pleas, Saudis Let Terrorist Go

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah refused a personal plea from President Bill Clinton to help capture Hezbollah terrorist Imad Mugniyah in 1996, according to former White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke, now an ABC News consultant.

Clarke says the CIA learned that Mugniyah, wanted for a string of terror attacks, had boarded a commercial flight in Khartoum that was scheduled to stop in Riyadh.

"We appealed to the Saudis to grab him when the plane landed, and they refused," Clarke said in an interview broadcast Wednesday on ABC "World News With Charles Gibson."

After the initial refusal, Clarke said, U.S. officials went to the then-crown prince, now king.

"We raised the level of appeals all the way through Bill Clinton who was on the phone at three in the morning appealing to the highest level in Saudi Arabia to grab him," Clarke said.

"Instead, the Saudis refused to let the plane land and it continued on to Damascus," Clarke said.

Calls to the Saudi embassy in Washington, D.C., for comment were not immediately returned.

The near-capture in 1996 was one of several times the U.S. had "actionable intelligence" on the whereabouts of Mugniyah but were unable to catch him.

Former CIA intelligence officer Bob Baer, now a contributing editor for TIME.com, says he had repeated offers from "people in Lebanon who said they could place a bomb in his car," but the offer was declined.

"I tracked this guy for 15 years, and he was the best," Baer said. "He used elementary precautions but they were very effective," Baer added.

Known as the Fox, Mugniyah changed his facial appearance and put on 30 to 40 pounds as he successfully eluded repeated efforts by the CIA and Israel to track him down.

His death Tuesday was blamed on Israel's Mossad by Hezbollah television, an allegation denied by the Israeli prime minister's office.

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