In early spring 1983, shortly before her death, the American journalist Janet Lee Stevens urged this observer to visit Libya and meet some friends of hers who were active in the Palestine armed resistance. In those days, thanks to Yasser Arafat’s skill, passion, charm and cash, there were ten Palestinian groups publicly associated, and another half dozen more shadowy ones, sometimes in and sometimes out, depending on shifting political considerations, of the then large tent of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
I did go to Libya and over the next decade, would visit Libya fairly frequently for conferences and meetings as the “North American Delegate” to one of Muammar Gaddafi’s favorite activist organizations that I was asked to join. Our group had a long title: The International Secretariat for Solidarity with the Arab and Muslim People and Their Central Cause, Palestine.
It was in 1982 while in Beirut, initially for just a week, as part of a US Congressional delegation and on leave from the House Judiciary Committee that turned for me into a long summer that I first heard about Lebanon’s Shia activists, Imam Musa Sadr and Sheik Mohammad Yaacoub and their Lebanese journalist colleague, Abbas Badr Eddine. One thing was sure even then; all three disappeared on August 31, 1978, the night before Gaddafi’s 9th annual celebration of his “Great Fatah Revolution” at Green Square, four years earlier.
Over the years I continued to hear rumors in and outside of Libya about what became of the trio but only starting in the summer of 2011 did I begin a focused research project with the cooperation of a few Libyans I had met during the old days at the “Secretariat.” To my pleasant surprise, my three best friends had become high ranking officials during the past two decades and agreed to help me solve this historic mystery since, like Saif al Islam, they had come to believe “ It is time to finish with the Sadr-Yaacoub file and the events surrounding the cover-up”. A few are, post August 23, 2011, the day Tripoli was overrun by anti-Gaddafi forces, laying low in Egypt and Maghreb countries and two are in Libyan jails awaiting “trial”.
The solution to the nearly 34 year mystery surrounding the disappearance of Lebanon’s venerated Imam, Musa Sadr, will be publicly confirmed following DNA tests now being prepared. Negotiations are continuing with the Libyan National Transition Council (NTC) regarding selecting an international firm to conduct DNA tests. Contamination is a concern given that Libya does not currently have a local firm with the equipment and experience to conduct the DNA tests and guarantee their integrity. Also being negotiated is who will oversee the essential chain of custody of all DNA samples removed from the Imam’s recently discovered remains. Extreme care is required at each step because it is certain that upon the release of the evidence of what was Imam Musa Sadr’s fate, on August 31, 1978, following his departure from a heated meeting with Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, the evidence will be challenged.
Predicted immediate challenges will come mainly from some in Lebanon who have become wealthy and politically entrenched based on exaggerated claims of having had a special relationship with Musa Sadr and their appropriation of the “Musa Sadr brand” and their claimed right to carry the mantle of the Imam. These Lebanese politicians have a vested capital interest in preserving Musa Sadr’s and Sheik Mohammad Yaacoub’s status as ‘missing’ in order to continue their lucrative business at the expense of ordinary Shia and others in Lebanon and abroad who want to know the truth.
Among the reasons given by this group for opposing scientific DNA analysis is that it is against Islam, that Musa Sadr’s family believes the Imam is alive so the tests are not necessary or even possible, and that this group has “reliable evidence of sightings of Musa Sadr alive, as recently as only a few months ago.”
All of these arguments delivered with apparent utmost sincerity during meetings in Beirut in April 2012 are patent disingenuous and cynical nonsense. They are understood to be such by many with even a rudimentary knowledge of Islam and the value the great religion places on science and by those still waiting for the proof and promised photos of “Musa Sadr alive and well recently in Libya.”
Yet there remains no certainty about the fate of his partner and alter ego, Lebanon’s Sheik Mohammad Yaacoub and his file remains open and the search to discover his fate is intensifying.
Mohammad Yaacoub was born in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon in 1945 and with his family that included 12 sisters and brothers moved to the Hay Karameh neighborhood of Dahiyeh, South Beirut. A 1965 graduate of Lebanese University in mathematics and natural sciences, where he excelled as a brilliant student, Dr. Yaacoub received his PhD from the Sorbonne where his thesis was entitled “Islam, between Marxism and Capitalism”. He became Director of a high school in Nabetiyeh, south of Beirut and the following year he went to Najaf, Iraq and studied with and under several renowned Islamic scholars including Sayed Mohammad Bakr al Sadr, Sayed Mosen al Hakim and Sayed About Algasseur Al Rhouil
It was in 1968 that Mohammad Yaacoub and Musa Sadr first met in the home of the Martyr Ayatollah Mohammad Baqr al Sadr. They instantly became friends. In 1970, while leading a delegation of Najaf scholars to a religious conference in Cairo Mohammad Yaacoub met Gamal Abdul Nasser and their political views influenced each other and they became friends.
Following the Christian militia attack of April 13, 1975 at Ein el Rommaneh on a bus carrying Palestinian refugees, which massacre killed 30 and sparked the 16 year Lebanese Civil War, Sheik Yaacoub along with Christian leader Dany Chamoun risked their lives dismantling barricades along the red line of Mirror (Mraya) Street near Chiyeh.
Research in Lebanon and Libya including several interviews with some with firsthand knowledge, has revealed that Sheik Mohammad Yaacoub’s historic role in the Shia Renaissance has been kept largely out of the public spotlight for political reasons. In point of fact, Sheik Yaacoub worked hand in hand with Musa Sadr, who together founded Lebanon’s National Resistance a decade before the advent of Hezbollah. Sheik Yaacoub was simply the shadow and ‘secret box’ of Musa Sadr and number two in the Shia awakening in the 1970’s.
This fact was clearly underlined by the testimony of leading Lebanese Shia leaders who, after 33 years, recently paid public tribute to the still missing much esteemed Sheik.
On the occasion of a community tribute honoring Sheikh Mohammad Yaacoub, oddly for the first time on February 8, 2011, there was a gathering of leaders of Lebanon’s religious and political community as well as current diplomats who know firsthand of his works and career.
Hezbollah’s Secretary-General, Hassan Nasrallah spoke about “the indispensable legacy of Sheikh Yaacoub.” He emphasized Yaacoub’s humanity and his devotion to the cause Nasallah believed in, his brilliant energy as a student of science and related fields and his connection with the people he was committed to serving. Nasrallah told his listeners that “a simple repetition of the words of Sheikh Mohamed Yaacoub can identify very clearly the cause I belong to and the cause he sacrificed and lived for. In all of Mohammad Yaacoubs words we see him carrying the anxiety and worry of the poor and the powerless of the deprived. He always sought to crystallize their cause and bringing from the shadows of denial to the real world.”
Sheikh Abdul al Amir Qabalan, Vice President of the Higher Shia Council spoke about how “We all remember him is all areas of the resistance. He overcame all difficulties and worked for the rights of the community—he opposed injustice and he always urged peace.” Sheik Qabalan concluded his tribute by telling his audience that “We demand from Arabic and Islamic umma to work for justice and truth and we demand in the name of Sheikh Yaacoub that the Arabic people implement the just and remove the unjust. Why this long silence regarding his absence. The absense of the three?”
Iran’s Ambassador in Lebanon Ghazanfar Roknabadi, paid high tribute to “Our beloved Sheikh Mohammad Yaacoub who as partner with Imam Musa Sadr summoned the Lebanese Resistance to defend Lebanon against the Zionist invaders.” Ambassador Roknabadi delivered a clarion call “In name of Mohammad Yaacoub we renew our demand to uncover the mystery of this humanitarian case—the disappearance of Musa Sadr, Mohammad Yaccoub and journalist Abbas Badr Eddine.”
While the search for Sheik Yaacoub continues in Libya, he remains in the hearts of millions in Lebanon and globally as a pillar of the Resistance and icon of the decade of struggles waged as part of the Movement of the Deprived and the founding of the Amal Movement.
But serious questions remain. Why after nearly a year into the post-Gadhafi period was the case not solved with help from Lebanon despite several trips by officials allegedly for the purpose? Is it because some Lebanese politicians do not want the truth to be known?
Were some regional powers involved with Gaddafi on this subject before and after the disappearances and prevented Lebanon’s cabinet from even discussing the issue until 2005?
What was the role of the recent White House Medal of Freedom recipient, Shimon Peres, Israel’s Prime Minister and head of the Labor Party at the time of the disappearance who feared Imam Sadr and Sheik Yaacoub as the two Arab leaders capable of uniting the Arabs against the Zionist Occupiers while at the same time the duo was supporting the Iranian revolution that led to the toppling of Israel’s ally, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi?
And what was the role of the Israeli Labor Party and Mossad, who believed that Imam Sadr and Sheik Yaaoub were capable of preventing Egypt from signing the Camp David Accords which was designed to remove 70 million Egyptians from the struggle to liberate Palestine?
These and other questions are generating increased demands to solve the case of Sheik Mohammad Yaacoub and answers may be forthcoming soon.
Franklin Lamb is doing research in Lebanon and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.