Mustafa Badreddine, the top commander of so-called Hezbollah, was killed in Syria by insurgent shelling, the party announced on Saturday, vowing to continue its involvement in Syria’s civil war.
The group said the blast that killed Badreddine near the Damascus International Airport was caused by artillery shelling by “takfiri” groups.
The area on the southern edge of the Syrian capital is known to host positions of several militant groups including al-Nusra Front.
Hezbollah’s statement said Badreddine’s killing will only boost the party’s “will and intention to continue fighting these criminal gangs until they are defeated.”
It added that defeating insurgent groups in Syria was “the wish” of Badreddine, 55, who was also known among the group’s ranks as Zulfiqar.
The statement hinted that the group will continue to be deeply involved in the conflict next door that has killed more than 250,000 people since 2011, including around 1,200 Hezbollah fighters.
“It is the same battle against the American-Zionist project that the terrorists are spearheading,” Hezbollah said.
The group announced Badreddine’s death on Friday without saying when the attack occurred. It said at the time that an investigation has been launched into the cause of the blast.
But Rami Abdurrahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said that according to his network of activists in the area on the ground, there has been no shelling in the airport area since Wednesday.
“Hezbollah must come forward with proof about the death of its commander,” Abdurrahman said by telephone.
Hezbollah is fighting in Syria, backing the regime of Bashar Assad against a range of militants including the ISIS and al-Nusra Front.
Badreddine was sentenced to death in Kuwait for his role in bomb attacks there in 1983. He escaped from prison in Kuwait after Iraq, under the leadership of Saddam Hussein, invaded the country in 1990.
His release from jail in Kuwait was one of the demands made by the hijackers of a TWA flight in 1985, and of the hijackers of a Kuwait Airways flight in 1988.
For years, Badreddine masterminded military operations against Israel from Lebanon and overseas and managed to escape capture by Arab and Western governments.
Badreddine was also one of five Hezbollah members indicted by the U.N.-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon in the Feb. 2005 killing of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
He was being tried in absentia.