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New Showtime series follows hunt of the deadliest terrorist before 9/11

“Ghosts of Beirut,” a new show from Showtime, follows the founding of that organization by its leader, Imad Mughniyeh.
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ghosts of beirut on showtime

Violence between Israelis, Palestinians, and various anti-Israel organizations has been going on for years now. In recent days, the fighting between the Israel Defence Forces, Palestine, and a coalition of Arab terror groups was precipitated by an Israeli expansion of settlements in the West Bank and raids on Palestinian refugee camps and the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. 

One of the terrorist organizations in the fray is Islamic Jihad, which was founded in 1981 in Egypt by students who wanted a free Palestinian state. But that Islamic Jihad is very different from a Lebanese organization with the same, founded around the same time – and that Islamic Jihad was far more deadly to Westerners.

Ghosts of Beirut,” a new show from Showtime, follows the founding of that organization by its leader, Imad Mughniyeh and dramatizes the decades-long manhunt by the CIA and Israeli Mossad to assassinate him. 

Imad Mughniyeh was around 21 years old when he founded Islamic Jihad in Beirut. At the time, Lebanon was in the middle of a ten-year civil war that would have a devastating effect on the country for years to come. In retaliation for Israel’s invasion and sporadic bombing of his country, he began a wave of terror that wouldn’t limit itself to Lebanese borders. 

Imad Mughniyeh ghosts of beirut
Portrait of Imad Mughniyeh

Mughniyeh allied his new organization with Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps to train and equip a new, deadlier army of terrorists with the aim of exacting revenge on Israel and the West for their infractions against the Arab people. But he would take terrorism to a whole new level, introducing one of the most devastating, unpredictable, and deadliest terror tactics ever devised: the suicide bomber. 

Before Islamic Jihad, suicide bombing was unthinkable, even by terrorists. Like Judaism and Christianity, suicide is considered a grave sin in the Islamic faith. Mughniyeh convinced younger Lebanese that suicide in the course of Jihad was forgivable and would result in instant entry to paradise. In 1982, 17-year-old Ahmad Qasir drove his Peugeot sedan into an IDF headquarters building in the Lebanese city of Tyre, where it exploded, killing 103 Israelis and almost 60 Lebanese, wounding another 95. 

That bombing was the beginning of the suicide bombing tactics veterans of Middle Eastern conflicts know today, and it was precipitated by Imad Mughniyeh. He would go on to orchestrate similar (but larger bombings) on the American embassy in Beirut and the 1983 Marine Barracks Bombing in Beirut, along with attacks in Kuwait, Argentina, and elsewhere. 

On top of his suicide bombings, Imad Mughniyeh was responsible for planning and executing the kidnapping and assassinations of American citizens in Lebanon, many of which ended up dead or detained for years. Before 9/11, Mughniyeh was responsible for taking more American lives than any other terrorist or group.

Finding and capturing or killing Mughniyeh became an obsession for the CIA and Mossad. There was just one problem: they didn’t know what he looked like, where he was, or how to track him. The only evidence they had of his existence was a photo from his youth. He was not only known as “a brilliant military tactician and very elusive,” he was also an “untraceable ghost.” 

“Ghosts of Beirut” follows the obsession of capturing this most-wanted terrorist over the course of decades, and features interviews from real CIA case officers and archival news broadcasts woven into the show’s story. Eventually, Mughniyeh’s history does catch up to him. He was assassinated with (appropriately) a car bomb in Damascus in 2008. But watching the show and seeing the real thoughts and feelings of those who pursued him is riveting television. 

“Ghosts of Beirut” premieres on Showtime on May 19, 2023.