Middle East Intelligence Bulletin
Jointly published by the United States Committee for a Free Lebanon and the Middle East Forum
  Vol. 1   No. 9

September 1999 


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Sister of Imam Musa Sadr Says He's in Libyan Prison

Debate over the fate of Imam Musa Sadr, the founder of the Shi'ite Lebanese Amal movement who mysteriously vanished in 1978, was reactivated last month when his sister announced that he was "alive and in a Libyan prison" on the eve of a rally to commemorate the twenty-first anniversary of his disappearance. "According to information I got from international intelligence services, Imam Musa Sadr is imprisoned in Libya, serving a life sentence," Rabab Sadr told the LBCI on August 29. "We expect Imam Sadr and his two companions, Sheikh Mohammed Yacoub and journalist Abbas Badreddine--who are also alive--to return. Efforts are being made in that direction."1

Imam Musa Sadr

Imam Musa Sadr
Though born in Iran, Sadr emigrated to Lebanon in 1960 after being appointed as the top Shi'ite religious leader for the city of Tyre and soon became immensely popular for his efforts to improve the socio-economic condition of Lebanese Shi'ites. In 1969, Sadr was elected president of the Islamic Shi'ite Council. In March 1974, Sadr founded the "Movement of the Deprived" to campaign against the government's negligence of rural areas. After the start of the Lebanese civil war, the Shi'ite Amal militia was established as the movement's military arm (though it did not participate extensively in the fighting until after his disappearance).

Sadr was widely admired for his respect of other religious communities in Lebanon. In 1960, he co-founded the Social Movement with Catholic Archbishop George Haddad and was an active participant in the "Islamic-Christian dialogue" of 1962. In perhaps the most dramatic display of cross-sectarian respect for the Imam, Sadr was invited in 1975 to give a Lenten sermon at a Catholic church. "When Imam al-Sadr entered the main hall of the church, faces of the audience showed a mixture of awe and delight," wrote a reporter present at the event. After the sermon, "the crowd of worshipers began vying with one another to shake hands with the Imam who had prayed and preached in the church of Christ."2

Sadr's moderation earned him many critics within the Islamic fundamentalist and Arab nationalist currents and may have proved to be his undoing. Sadr visited Libya in August 1978 and was last seen in public on August 31 as he left his hotel to attend a meeting with Libyan President Muammar Qadaffi. According to the Libyan government, Sadr changed his mind at the last moment and departed on a flight to Italy (he was not on the flight when it arrived in Rome, however). An American diplomatic cable said that Sadr had "gotten into a heated discussion with his Libyan hosts . . . the Libyans wished to intimidate the Imam and in the course of this intimidation, a Libyan struck the Imam a lethal blow." According to his wife, however, Sadr left Libya and arrived in Damascus prior to his disappearance (if this account is accurate, he would not have been the first Lebanese to "disappear" in Syria).3

  1 "L'imam est toujours en vie, selon sa sur Amal commémore aujourd'hui la disparition de Sadr" L'Orient-Le Jour, 31 August 1999.
  2 An-Nahar, 20 February 1975. Cited in Fouad Ajami, The Vanished Imam: Musa al-Sadr and the Shi'a of Lebanon (Cornell University Press, 1986), pp. 134-135.
  2 Ibid.

1999 Middle East Intelligence Bulletin. All rights reserved.

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