BEIRUT/SIDON: The investigation into last week’s assassination of former Finance Minister Mohammad Shatah that killed at least seven others is making slow progress, judicial sources said Monday, as authorities struggle to find clues in the bombing case.
The driver of the car in which a remotely detonated bomb was placed could not be identified by surveillance cameras, a judicial source said.
Meanwhile, a Palestinian delegation met Army Intelligence officials in Sidon in the wake of reports that the rigged car was last seen in the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh.
Speaking to The Daily Star on condition of anonymity, the source said that only the back of the driver who parked the explosive-laden vehicle appeared in the CCTV cameras, adding that he was wearing a hat.
The suspect’s ability to avoid being captured on surveillance cameras suggests those behind the Dec. 27 attack were professionals, the source added.
Although investigators still have more footage to analyze, the source said those behind Shatah’s assassination had thorough knowledge of the locations and surveillance patterns of cameras in the area, which allowed the suspect to evade their gaze.
A car bomb attack killed Shatah and seven others Friday in the capital’s central district.
Caretaker Defense Minister Fayez Ghosn told the media that authorities had some information that could help reveal details of the crime.
The Internal Security Forces sought the public’s help in the investigation, urging individuals with photos or videos of the car bomb to send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Recent findings in the investigation were discussed Monday during a meeting chaired by acting State Prosecutor Samir Hammoud, which brought together Military Prosecutor Judge Saqr Saqr with other security officials. Regarding the Honda CRV used in the blast, the source said investigators were certain the vehicle was rigged with some 60 kgs of explosives and last seen prior to the explosion at Ain al-Hilweh on the outskirts of the southern city of Sidon.
The source said the car had been sold in the camp on two occasions, but investigators have yet to identify the vehicle’s last owner.
The Army has boosted security measures at the five entrances of Ain al-Hilweh since Friday’s deadly attack, registering and thoroughly searching all cars leaving the camp.
Fatah Sunday handed over an official from their party, Col. Talal al-Urdouni, to Army Intelligence for questioning over his purchase and subsequent selling of the vehicle.
Fatah sources said Urdouni decided to hand himself over to Lebanese authorities for interrogation after discussion between Palestinian officials from Ain al-Hilweh and others from the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. Urdouni has insisted that he is innocent.
Head of the Palestinian National Security forces, Maj. Gen. Sobhi Abu Arab, urged Brig. Gen. Ali Shahrour, the chief of Army Intelligence in the south, to ease the security measures.
Abu Arab told The Daily Star that Shahrour promised him the military would soon reduce the measures taken in order to facilitate the flow of traffic coming in and out of the camp.
Shahrour and Abu Arab later held a meeting at a military barracks in a Sidon suburb to discuss the security situation in the camp.
Shahrour also met a delegation from the Palestinian Follow-up Committee, which comprises representatives of Palestinian factions in Ain al-Hilweh. The Army official reassured camp residents that the measures were precautionary and not aimed at inconveniencing Palestinians, but instead were undertaken with the goal of protecting stability and security in Ain al-Hilweh and Lebanon. He also highlighted the importance of cooperation between Palestinian factions and military and security agencies in the country.
According to a source who attended the meeting, Shahrour also brought up a previous request by the Army to question three suspects living in the camp. They are Bahaaeddine Hujeir, who is allegedly involved in the Nov. 19 Iranian Embassy bombing, and another suspect implicated in a rocket attack on Beirut’s southern suburbs in May, as well as a third person suspected in several security incidents.
The source said that Shahrour highlighted to the delegation the importance of handing over suspects to the Army, as the situation in Lebanon was delicate and couldn’t endure any delay in these matters.
Meanwhile, Haytham al-Shaabi, the head of the Jund al-Sham Islamist group in Ain al-Hilweh, dismissed in a statement as lies media reports saying that he was among those who had sold the car used in the attack.
For his part, Sheikh Jamal Khattab, the head of an Islamist group in the camp, threatened to file a lawsuit against some media outlets for what he called “defamation and slander” of Ain al-Hilweh and the Palestinian cause.
The Army’s stepped-up measures and claims by some sources that Ain al-Hilweh sheltered terrorists angered the camp’s residents, with some blocking the road of one of its entrances with burning tires.
Former Sidon MP Osama Saad chaired a special meeting for the Lebanese-Palestinian Political Gathering at the Maarouf Saad Cultural Center in Sidon.
In a statement, the gathering condemned Shatah’s assassination, along with “reckless” accusations against Lebanese parties and regional sides of involvement in the crime before the investigation was over. March 14 officials indirectly accused Hezbollah of the assassination. The attendees also slammed claims made against Ain al-Hilweh camp.
Meanwhile, Shatah’s family received condolences Monday in his hometown, Tripoli. Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati paid his respects, among others.
For his part, Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt said the assassination of Shatah should not stop the path of moderation, free thought and dialogue.
“Because this will contradict the principles championed by the martyr himself, and push us into the trap set by those who carried out the assassination and achieve their goals in raising the levels of extremism, tension and stirring strife,” Jumblatt said in his weekly editorial at PSP’s Al-Anbaa electronic newspaper.