Hezbollah, a Shi’ite group allied to the Assad regime, reviles the Sunni ISIS. It issued a statement last week condemning the “heinous murder committed by criminal and terrorist gangs against the American journalist James Foley.”
“Supporting these groups, by funding them and offering them weaponry as well as media and political protection, in addition to the suspicious silence about their horrible crimes in Syria or Iraq, are the main cause behind these barbaric actions that are affecting everyone, without exceptions,” it said.
Twenty-five years ago Hezbollah – using one of its several names, the Organization of the Oppressed on Earth – kidnapped, tortured and murdered U.S. Marine Colonel William Higgins, who at the time of his abduction was attached to a U.N. peacekeeping force in Southern Lebanon.
After the group killed him it released a statement announcing the murder. Accompanying the statement, the New York Times reported at the time, was “a grisly videotape that showed a figure identified as the American twisting at the end of a rope.”
“Hezbollah is a suspect in the torture and murder of U.S. Colonel William Higgins,” CNN reported in a 2006 special on the terrorist group. “Higgins disappeared in 1988, while leading a U.N. observer group in south Lebanon. A year and a half later, this video appeared on television screens around the world. Higgins, badly beaten body, hanging from a rope.”
Higgins’ body was later dumped alongside a Beirut mosque, and was recovered by the U.N. observer group. The U.S. Navy later named an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer after him.
His body, dumped near the Beirut airport, was found seven years later, just days after Higgins’ remains were found.
The man U.S. officials held responsible for both kidnappings and murders, Hezbollah terror chief Imad Mughniyah, was killed in a 2008 bombing in Damascus.
Another American kidnapped and killed by Hezbollah was Peter Kilburn, a professor at the American University of Beirut. He was abducted in December 1984 and his body was found a year and four months later. The terrorists who killed him and two British teachers in April 1986 said they were avenging U.S. airstrikes against Libya.
(President Reagan ordered the strikes after the Gaddafi regime was implicated in the bombing of a Berlin nightclub, an attack that killed two U.S. soldiers and a Turkish woman, and wounded 200 people, including 41 Americans.)
Among other American hostages who were held but not killed by Hezbollah was Catholic priest Fr. Lawrence Jenco, who spent a year and a half in captivity in the mid-1980s.
A federal court which later awarded his estate more than $300 million in damages from Iran – Hezbollah’s sponsor – said in its ruling Jenco had been treated “little better than a caged animal.”
“He was chained, beaten, and almost constantly blind-folded. His access to toilet facilities was extremely limited, if permitted at all,” it said. “He also withstood repeated psychological torture. Most notably, at one point, his captors held a gun to his head and told him that he was about to die. The captors pulled the trigger and laughed as Father Jenco reacted to the small click of the unloaded gun. At other times, the captors misled Fr. Jenco into thinking he was going home. They told him to dress up in his good clothes, took pictures of him, and then said ‘ha, ha, we’re just kidding.’”
Despite Hezbollah’s condemnation of Foley’s murder, the Shi’ite group has not spared journalists in its own violent campaign.
In the mid-1980s it seized American Associated Press reporter Terry Anderson and CNN journalist Jerry Levin in Beirut, holding the former hostage for more than six years and the latter for almost a year.
Hezbollah is also suspected of responsibility for the murders of at least two journalists in Lebanon, both killed in 1992.
Mustafa Jeha, a journalist with a Christian newspaper who was an outspoken critic of Hezbollah, Iran and fundamentalist Islam, was shot dead in Beirut in January of that year.
Seven months later German freelance journalist Gabrielle Marian Hulsen was killed by a bomb planted in her car north of the capital.
In 2002, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage memorably described Hezbollah as possibly a bigger threat than even al-Qaeda, which had attacked the U.S. to such devastating effect the previous September.
“Hezbollah may be the A-team of terrorists and maybe al-Qaeda is actually the B-team,” he told a U.S. Institute of Peace audience. “They’re on the list and their time will come. There is no question about it. They have a blood debt to us … and we’re not going to forget it and it’s all in good time.”