Mohammed Ali Hamadi is somewhere in Lebanon. Maybe he's in the south, close to the front lines of fighting between Hezbollah and the Israel Defense Forces. Perhaps he's in southern Beirut in one of the Hezbollah districts that are effectively off-limits to the government of Lebanon.
But we know with a high degree of certainty that he is in Lebanon. We know it because Beirut was the destination of his one-way ticket when Hamadi walked out of a German prison last December.
Sixteen years earlier, the German government sentenced Hamadi to a life sentence for the murder of Robert Stethem, a U.S. Navy diver. Stethem was returning from an assignment in Greece in 1985 when Hezbollah terrorists hijacked his flight from Athens to Rome.
Witnesses said Hezbollah singled out Stethem because he was a member of the U.S. military. They tied him up with an electrical cord and beat him mercilessly. The Associated Press carried this account from another passenger: "I heard screams as he was hit. There were no words. It was like someone was beating a dog."
After hours of torture, the terrorists shot Stethem in the head and dumped his mutilated body on the tarmac in Beirut. When some expert says the United States should take no side in Israel's fight with Hezbollah, remember Stethem.
In 1987, German authorities caught Hamadi at the Frankfurt airport carrying liquid explosives. After denying U.S. requests for Hamadi's extradition, a German court delivered the "life" sentence. In Germany, however, murderers serving a life sentence can apply for parole after 15 years.
So it was that Hamadi returned to his native Lebanon a free man.
The Lebanese government also turned down requests to extradite Hamadi and three other Hezbollah terrorists responsible for Stethem's death: Ali Atwa, Hassan Izzeddine and Imad Fayez Mugniyah.
In addition to plotting the hijacking that led to Stethem's murder, Mugniyah is responsible for the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut that killed 63, the bombing of the Marine barracks near Beirut's airport that killed 241 U.S. servicemen and for kidnapping, torturing and murdering CIA Beirut station chief William Buckley and Marine Lt. Col. Richard Higgins.
Mugniyah is on the U.S. list of most-wanted terrorists. He is now Hezbollah's second-in-command, the mastermind behind the attack on Israel that precipitated the current crisis.
In what kind of country is it that people like Hamadi and Mugniyah can simply blend in to the population? In what kind of country is it that the organization to which these terrorists swear fealty is a legitimate party whose representatives hold 14 seats in parliament and two cabinet posts?
Lebanon may not fit the classic standard of a failed state. But it is a peculiar kind of failed state: a state that lacks sovereignty over its own territory and a state that permits a vassal state of Syria and Iran to coexist within it.
The great threat to Hezbollah when three decades of Syrian occupation came to an end last year was that Lebanon might become somewhat less failed. Power might emanate from the rule of law rather than the barrel of a gun. And in a society ruled by laws and in which militias are disarmed, men like Hamadi and Mugniyah would have fewer places to hide.
That's one reason why Hezbollah decided to reignite its war with Israel. Mayhem and destruction are its lifeblood. And no number of well-intentioned U.N. peacekeepers will alter its violent calculus.
A solution exists if the international community ever gets serious about bolstering Beirut's sovereignty, confronting Iranian and Syrian trespass and disarming Hezbollah.
Until then, as Israel fights the terrorist state-within-a-state the only way it can, those of us with memories can hope it delivers some semblance of justice to Hamadi and Mugniyah.