BEIRUT: Lebanon will likely hand the body of the leader of an Al-Qaeda-affiliated group over to his family in Saudi Arabia, but only after physicians have determined the cause of death, a judicial source told The Daily Star Tuesday.
The source, who asked not be identified, told The Daily Star that acting State Prosecutor Samir Hammoud was expected to agree to a request made by the family of Saudi national Majid al-Majid to repatriate his body.
“But he is waiting for a report from a committee of physicians he appointed in the previous hours ... and tasked with studying Majid’s medical records in all Lebanese hospitals he was admitted to,” the source said, adding that the report was expected within 48 hours.
The six-member committee, also comprising coroners, is examining Majid’s medical records at Hamid Hospital in the Bekaa Valley and Beirut’s Al-Maqassed Hospital as well as a military health care institution in the capital.
Majid headed the Al-Qaeda-linked AbdullahAzzam Brigades, which claimed responsibility for the Nov. 19, 2013, suicide bombings outside Iran’s Embassy in Beirut that claimed the lives of 30 people including an Iranian diplomat.
A source told The Daily Star Majid’s arrest last month was the result of a tipoff from U.S. intelligence, a reflection of the recent improvement in U.S.-Iranian ties.
Majid, who was wanted by the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and Iran among other countries, suffered from critical health conditions when he was arrested, and was transferred to the Beirut military hospital, where he died over the weekend. He had been a patient at the two other hospitals prior to his arrest.
Caretaker Justice Minister Shakib Qortbawi citing a coroner’s report, said Majid died due to kidney failure, lung problems and a virus infection.
He confirmed to The Daily Star that Lebanon had received a request from Saudi Arabia to hand over Majid’s body to his family. “A request from the [Saudi] Embassy has been filed to the Foreign Ministry and referred to the Justice Ministry asking that Majid al-Majid’s body be repatriated,” Qortbawi said.
The caretaker minister added that the request had been sent after Majid’s brother informed Saudi authorities that he wanted the body returned to Saudi Arabia. Qortbawi said the request had been referred to Hammoud for consideration.
Qortbawi said it was still not confirmed whether an autopsy would be carried out on Majid’s body.
But a source at the Saudi Embassy told The Daily Star that there would be no autopsy.
“We will rely on the report of the medical examiners and we will not request an autopsy for Majid’s body,” said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Hammoud has instead tasked the physicians committee to use Majid’s medical records to prepare a detailed report on the ailments the Saudi suffered from and the reasons behind the rapid deterioration in his health and his subsequent death.
“The public prosecutor’s office prefers preparing a comprehensive medical report on Majid so that the judiciary will have answers to all questions on Majid’s health situation and death and in order to thwart attempts to raise doubts over how he died,” the source said.
Sources familiar with the issue said the decision to prepare a medical report on Majid’s death came after some Iranian officials accused Saudi Arabia of being behind Majid’s death.
“Lebanon opposes any accusation targeting its institutions, particularly the military establishment, and opposes hints that some sides killed Majid to prevent him from divulging many of the secrets he had,” one of the sources said.
Majid’s death came just two days after Lebanese authorities verified his identity through DNA tests.
Lebanese authorities were unable to interrogate Majid during his arrest due to his health situation. The judicial source said that his death had deprived authorities of important information he was believed to have on the activities of his group.
Meanwhile, Iran Tuesday voiced its readiness to assist Lebanon with its investigation into Majid’s death.
“Iran is ready to cooperate with Lebanon to perform an autopsy to find out the exact reason behind the death of the terrorist Majid al-Majid,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marziyeh Afkham said at a news conference in Tehran, Iran’s official news agency IRNA reported.
She suggested dispatching a fact-finding mission to Lebanon to look into Majid’s death, and said Iranian Justice Minister Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi had expressed Tehran’s readiness, in a letter to Qortbawi, to send a judicial team to help with the case.
Afkham said that following the bombing outside the Iranian Embassy, Tehran had followed up on the case and held talks with Lebanese officials.
“Then Majid, the main culprit of the terrorist attack, was apprehended,” Afkham said. “But he died days after his arrest.”
Afkham said Tehran had also announced its willingness to help arrest all those involved in the Iran Embassy bombing: “Iran maintains its right to follow up on the case.”