A taste of my book on Hezbollah: Imad Mughnnieyh and the CNN’s missed scoop

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By Elijah J. Magnier: @ejmalrai

Imad Mughnnieh was a young man who possessed a very developed sense of security. There are very many stories about him: some, of course, are imagined and far from reality. However, right from his youth his remarkable intelligence made him stand out.

During one of my trips to Tehran, I was covering the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution. Journalists were all gathered at Hotel Laleh International, while hundreds of VIPs were allocated to the Hotel Azadi.

As every morning, I went to the Azadi hotel to meet a few people, trying to avoid the endless speeches scheduled for the guests. The Iranian organisers put a kind of kiosk in the middle of the hallway with a panel and dozens of albums, asking all guests to choose the photos they liked. They would be reproduced and delivered to them in their room.

I saw Sheikh Sobhi Tfaili, the then Secretary General of Hezbollah, who invited me to continue our conversation in his room. On my way, I saw Imad Mughnniyeh looking at the albums with great attention, flipping through the inside with careful attention. Imad spoke French and was learning English (he told me).

  • What are you doing (I asked)?
  • I am looking at all the photos.
  • I can see that, but it will take you an awful long time,the way you are looking and spending time on each one.
  • It is important for me to see if my picture is among these.
  • Ah! Now I understand. You want to remove it.
  • Absolutely not! I am curious as to who is going to ask

I had thousands of questions to ask Imad about the stories surrounding him and the path he had chosen, and indeed, where this was leading him.

The following day, while I was chatting with Imad in the huge hall of the hotel, suddenly we saw lights coming our way and three people rushing in our direction. Imad was sensitive to bright light, and very attentive concerning people trying to use flash or cameras in his direction. Smartphones didn’t exist then.

It was Christiane Amanpour holding a microphone, and behind her the cameraman and his assistant, walking fast towards us.

The CNN had the opportunity to break a scope but ignored (and still does today) that the man was Imad. Christiane was hunting for information related to to Terry Waite who was still in captivity. The CNN was then acting as go-between, and had delivered a letter from Terry Wait’s family to the hostage-takers through mediators who………

 

 

The rest will be in my forthcoming Book.

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