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March 16, 1984: Hezbollah Takes the CIA’s William Buckley Hostage in Beirut

Buckley Is Murdered in October 1985

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william buckley CIA

Hezbollah took the CIA's William Francis Buckley hostage in an elaborate operation in Beirut in 1984. He was killed a year and a half later.

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March 16, 1984: William Buckley, the CIA station chief in Beirut, is kidnapped by Shiite Islamist militants belonging to then-embryonic Hezbollah.

As then-Associated Press Bureau Chief Terry Anderson, who would himself be taken hostage a year later, wrote in Den of Lions, his memoir of captivity,

The Hezbollah operation against Buckley was almost a model of counterespionage. Buckley had developed a woman Shiite agent named Zeynoub, sister of the woman involved in the assassination of American University President Kerr. Unknown to him, she was a double, a “responsible,” or official in Hezbollah, whose true loyalty was with the fundamentalist party. According to one usually reliable source, Buckley grew enamored of the woman and began an affair with her. Later, however, the professional CIA man began to grow suspicious. Before he decided to act on those suspicions, the woman became aware of them. With the information she now had, and access to his apartment, the kidnapping was easy. The decision to take him was made on Friday, March 15, 1984. On March 16, in an operation involving twelve cars full of Hezbollah agents, he was snatched.

Buckley was tortured repeatedly and severely for the next ten months, under the supervision of Imad Mugniyeh, one of Hezbollah’s senior officials, and a Lebanese doctor. He resisted bravely, refusing to give any information, but as was inevitable eventually broke. The intensity and length of his interrogations broke his health, and led directly to his death.

Buckley’s captors say they executed him on Oct. 1, 1985 as retaliation for an Israeli raid on Palestinian targets in Tunisia.

The New York Times reported in December 1991 that “it was shortly after Mr. Buckley's killing in 1985 that President Ronald Reagan made the release of five other American hostages then being held in Lebanon a top national priority, a decision that led to a series of covert operations that culminated in the Iran-contra affair.”

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