When Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad traveled to Damascus in January, he took a special guest with him on the flight from Tehran – one of the world’s most wanted terrorists.

Imad Mugniyah

Intelligence experts have told the London Times Ahmadinejad has recruited Imad Mugniyah, the Lebanese commander of Hezbollah’s overseas operations, to oversee retaliation against Western targets if the U.S. orders a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Mugniyah, now in his forties, is on the FBI’s “Most Wanted Terrorist” list for past terrorist actions, including the hijacking of TWA Flight 847 in 1985 where one of the passengers, Robert Stethem, a U.S. Navy diver, was murdered. Mugniyah is also believed to be the last person to see William Buckley, the CIA station chief in Beirut, alive after he was kidnapped, mutilated and murdered by Hezbollah in 1984.

Mugniyah was one of three hijackers on TWA 847

Mugniyah and the Iranian president met with leaders of Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and Hamas in Damascus in what has been called a “terror summit” because of the number of groups that have carried out attacks on Israel and Israelis over the years.

Ahmadinejad earlier “threatened to “wipe Israel off the map.”

Mugniyah has avoided capture for 20 years, living in Iran and, reportedly, having changed his face and his fingerprints. He is said to have met with Osama bin Laden.

The Iranians “have complete command and control of Hezbollah,” said Henry Crumpton, head of counter-terrorism at the state department. “Imad Mugniyah works for Tehran. And you can’t talk about Hezbollah and not think about Iran. They really are part and parcel of the same problem.”

An Israeli defense source told the Times Mugniyah meets regularly with Mohseni Ezhei, Iran’s new defense minister appointed by Ahmadinejad.

“We know that Mohseni Ezhei holds routine meetings with Mugniyah, who is today Iran’s head of overseas operations,” he said. “Since we know from previous Iranian terror attacks that it takes about a year to plan a substantial one, we should not be surprised if operations against western targets are already in high gear and Mugniyah is certainly playing a major role.”

“When and if the Iranians decide to hit the West in its soft belly, Imad will be the one to act,” a Western intelligence source said.

Iran sent officers to southern Lebanon last month are in command of thousands of rockets aimed at Israel’s cities. It is believed they’ve been given control of Hezbollah’s missiles to attack Israel if Iran’s nuclear sites are hit. U.S. officials and Israel intelligence sources believe Mugniyah is in charge of these operations.

Robert Baer, a former CIA agent tasked with pursuing the terrorist in the 1980s said Mugniyah “is the most dangerous terrorist we have ever faced. Mugniyah is probably the most intelligent, most capable operative we have ever run across, including the KGB or anybody else. He enters by one door, exits by another, changes his cars daily, never makes appointments by telephone – he is never predictable. He is the master terrorist, the grail we have been after since 1983.”

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