Hezbollah is accusing Islamist extremists of killing its military commander in an explosion in Syria.
The Lebanon-based Hezbollah announced the death of Mustafa Badriddine on Thursday. It said he died in a blast that hit one of its centers near the Damascus International Airport.
The blast “was a result of artillery bombardment” by Islamist extremist groups in the region, Hezbollah said in a statement Saturday. It did not provide specifics on the groups involved.
“The outcome of the investigations will increase our determination and will to continue the fight against these criminal gangs and defeat them,” it said.
Months before his death, Badriddine said he wouldn’t “come back from Syria unless as a martyr or a carrier of the banner of victory,” according to Hezbollah.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks human rights abuses, said it was told by reliable sources among rebels in Eastern Ghouta and sources among regime forces that rebels didn’t fire any shells or rockets on the international airport in the past few days. The group said no shells have been seen targeting the area.
U.S. designates Badriddine a terrorist
Badriddine was indicted by a U.N.-backed tribunal for his suspected involvement in a 2005 truck bomb that killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 22 others.
The U.S. Treasury Department designated Badriddine a terrorist last year, saying he oversees Hezbollah’s military operations that support the regime in Syria, including the movement of fighters from Lebanon.
Badriddine is the brother-in-law of Imad Mughniyeh, a former Hezbollah commander assassinated in Syria in 2008.
In addition to senior leader, Badriddine was believed to be a member of Hezbollah’s advisory council.
Hezbollah is a Shiite political faction in Lebanon that provides social services to its constituents. The United States has long regarded it as a terrorist organization.
Shortly after his death was announced, Lebanese Al-Mayadeen TV, which is loyal to Hezbollah, said Israel is to blame. Israel rarely comments on such claims, but it’s the latest in a series of assassinations of leading figures in Syria blamed on Hezbollah’s neighbor and adversary.
CNN’s Nick Paton Walsh contributed to this report