The nephew of Mustafa Badreddine, the senior Hezbollah military commander assassinated in Syria last week, has been appointed his successor, a Saudi-owned paper reported Tuesday, citing “well-informed Lebanese sources.”
The nephew, Mustafa Mughniyeh, is the son of Badreddine’s sister who was married to Hezbollah’s previous military chief, Imad Mughniyeh.
According to the report in London-based Asharq Al-Awsat, the reclusive Mustafa Mughniyeh became close to his uncle after his father was killed in 2008 in a car bomb attack in Damascus.
The report of Badreddine’s successor in the paper — affiliated with the Sunni, anti-Hezbollah movement — was not confirmed by Lebanese or other media outlets.
Mustafa Mughniyeh was reportedly named after his uncle, who was then serving time in jail in Kuwait in connection with the 1983 attack on the American Embassy there.
Unlike his late brother Jihad, who appeared behind Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah on numerous occasions while he served as the group’s Golan District commander, Mustafa has largely steered clear of the media spotlight.
Mustafa remained silent even after Jihad was killed in an allegedly Israeli airstrike in the Syria’s Quneitra Province in January 2015.
While Israel was blamed for the bomb that killed Imad Mughniyeh, Hezbollah has not pointed a finger at the Jewish state over the mysterious death of Badreddine.
Last week, Lebanese media reported that Badreddine was killed in an explosion at the Damascus international airport.
Hezbollah confirmed Badreddine’s death, and claimed in a statement that he was killed as a result of shelling by unspecified Islamic extremists.
The announcement contradicted a flurry of Arab media reports claiming an advanced nation, possibly Israel, was behind the senior leader’s death. On Saturday, a Syrian watchdog group refuted Hezbollah’s claims, saying the country’s opposition groups had denied involvement in his death, and that no projectiles had been launched on the Damascus airport recently.
Though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly confirmed in recent months that Israel was actively working to disrupt Hezbollah’s military operations in Syria, there was no confirmation from Jerusalem of any alleged role in Badreddine’s death.
Badreddine, 55, had been the mastermind of the Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria’s civil war, which has been crucial to preserving President Bashar Assad’s hold on power against rebels but which has come at a heavy cost for the Iranian-backed Shiite guerrilla force, with more than 1,000 fighters killed.
Badreddine was one of four people being tried in absentia for the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri and 22 others in a 2005 suicide bombing.
According to Israel’s Channel 2, he was also the mastermind behind the 2012 Burgas bus bombing targeting Israeli tourists in Bulgaria. The July 18 blast killed five Israelis and a local bus driver, and injured several dozen more.
Badreddine’s death was a severe blow to Hezbollah, robbing it of a commander with decades of experience. But observers say the group is not likely to scale back its intervention in Syria, where it has fighters battling alongside Assad’s army on multiple fronts.