BEIRUT: A pro-Assad Islamist preacher accused of withholding information on the twin car bombs in Tripoli last month proclaimed his innocence Wednesday after a military court ordered his release and called for dialogue among religious leaders in Lebanon to prevent further bloodshed.
“We don’t want blood to be spilled,” Sheikh Hashem Minqara said at a news conference after his release. “Enough blood – I called for dialogue because more blood can be spilled and maybe we can prevent it.”
The Military Court of Cassation, headed by Judge Alice Shabtini, ordered Minqara’s release. The court dismissed an earlier request by Military Prosecutor Saqr Saqr, who sought the continued detention of the Islamist preacher.
Ibrahim Ayoubi, Minqara’s lawyer, said that the decision proved Minqara’s innocence.
Military Investigative Judge Riad Abu Ghayda had ordered Minqara’s release Monday but the decision was challenged by Saqr.
Minqara, the head of Islamic Tawhid, a pro- Assad group, was charged with withholding information about a cell involved in last month’s bombings in Tripoli that killed 47 and wounded hundreds.
Two suspects in the bombings remain in detention – Sheikh Ahmad Gharib and informant Mustafa Houri.
Minqara, who spoke at a news conference Wednesday evening at the headquarters of the Islamic Action Front in Beirut, criticized the investigation into the bombings, saying it “lacks transparency.”
He declared his innocence of the charge against him, saying he would not have withheld information on a potential bomb plot from the authorities.
“Even if a piece of information was not certain, I would have reported it,” he said.
Gharib and Houri, as well as two Syrians who are still at large, were charged last month in the car bombs case.The two men were charged with tasking the two Syrians to set up a “monitoring and planning cell to carry out terrorist acts in Lebanon,” while the two Syrians were charged with rigging two cars with explosives and placing them, with the help of other individuals, outside the Al-Taqwa and Al-Salam Mosques in Tripoli.
Minqara said he “strongly condemned” the loss of life in Tripoli, where he said the “blood of innocents” was spilled.
“We are all targeted, not just in Lebanon and Syria but in all the Arab and Muslim countries,” he said, referring as well to bombings in Iraq where he said both Shiite and Sunni mosques have been attacked.
Minqara said that Gharib was only involved in providing services and assistance to detainees held in connection with the crisis in Syria.
“There was nothing else, and anyone who has additional information, let them come forth,” he said.
Minqara appeared critical of the apparent reliance of security agencies on the testimony of Houri.
“If you rely on Mustafa Houri for your information, that is your business,” he said. “ Mustafa Houri is detained along with Sheikh Ahmad; let the investigation show who is right.”
Minqara also questioned whether the Information Branch of the Internal Security Forces acted quickly enough on information supplied by Houri, hinting that the bombings could have been prevented.
He issued a call for dialogue to leading religious scholars, including Sheikh Salem Rifai, the imam of Al-Taqwa Mosque in Tripoli that was the scene of one of last month’s car bombs. “I call for this dialogue sooner and not later.”
Minqara urged religious unity despite political disagreements on the crisis in Syria, warning that ‘takfiris,’ a term used to describe Islamist fundamentalists, would ignite “a devastating war” throughout the country.
Sources in Tripoli said it was unlikely that Minqara would return immediately to the city, where some groups have publicly threatened him with violence.
The preacher was evasive when asked if he would go back, saying he had some outstanding issues to settle before returning, though he held the country’s security agencies responsible for protecting him and his allies from attack and called on them to investigate threats of violence.
Arrest warrants are expected to be issued soon against the two Syrian men allegedly involved in the attacks in Tripoli, which has frequently witnessed violence over the conflict in neighboring Syria.
Minqara repeated his opposition to the Syrian rebels, declaring his support for regime-led reforms.
He described his position as one that championed the cause of opposing the West and Israel, rather than being one of outright support for the Assad regime.
“Show me another resisting nation like Syria today,” Minqara said. “The regime says it wants to reform. If we reform it inch by inch, isn’t that better than replacing this project with the Nusra Front?”
The Nusra Front is one of the strains of Al-Qaeda-inspired groups that are fighting against the Assad regime.