Lebanon News

Suspect in child rape case ‘a family friend’

Nasser speaks on the phone outside his house in Marjayoun, Friday, Dec. 10, 2014. (The Daily Star/Mohammed Zaatari)

MARJAYOUN, Lebanon: The father of a Syrian refugee child who was repeatedly raped in south Lebanon said Friday the suspected perpetrator was a close family friend.

“My son is in shock and we are trying to make him forget this suffering,” said Nasser, the father of the 4-year-old victim, adding that his son was “frightened and confused.”

“My son now prefers to sit all by himself and does not speak to anyone,” the distraught father said.

Last week, Nasser and his wife found out that their son had been sexually assaulted on a number of occasions by a Syrian man identified as Abdel-Salam Sheikh, who was arrested last weekend.

The father, a plasterer, said he employed Sheikh and helped him find a house near his after they all fled Syria together and sought refuge in the southern Lebanese town of Marjayoun.

Sheikh later became a “close friend,” the father said, adding that the man used to make regular visits to the family’s house in the southern town. Nasser alleged that Sheikh raped his son while his wife was busy working in the kitchen, adding: “I sensed that my son was sad and depressed for a while, but I thought he was just sick.”

He said he learned about his son’s abuse by accident. “I overhead my other son asking [the victim] to buy him candy from the money Sheikh gave him after he had pulled his pants down,” Nasser added.

He said he immediately approached his 4-year-old son and asked him about the money.

“My son then told me that the man raped him and that the he warned him not to tell his mother, saying she would slaughter him with a knife,” the father said.

“He was also bribing him with money” to keep him quiet, he alleged.

The father said he filed a complaint to the Marjayoun police department as soon as he found out about what his son was going through, leading to Sheikh’s arrest.

“He probably took advantage of the fact that we are poor and thought bribing my son was a good way to keep him quiet,” the father said. “I treated him like a brother and I never thought he would take advantage of my kindness this way.”

A doctor who examined the victim said he had most likely been raped more than once and that the sexual abuse probably began more than a month ago, according to Nasser.

A statement from the Social Affairs Ministry said that the child, whom it described as the victim of a “monstrous sexual assault,” had been placed in the care of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees since Tuesday.

“He is undergoing medical checkups and a psychiatric follow-up and there will be ongoing efforts to help the child and his family overcome this calamity,” the statement said.

Speaking to a local media outlet, caretaker Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour said that contrary to rumors, medical tests indicated that Sheikh did not have AIDS.

The UNHCR said in its weekly update on Syrian refugees in Lebanon that the organization and its partners had provided health care and mental support to the victim.

“The boy was immediately referred to a local hospital and provided with the necessary care and then expedited for registration with UNHCR,” the statement said.

“He is now receiving follow-up health services and mental health care by UNHCR’s implementing partner the International Medical Corps. His family has also been counseled on the legal services they can resort to during this difficult time.”

Caretaker Health Minister Ali Hasan Khalil has also asked the Marjayoun state hospital to support the victim and his family at the behest of Abu Faour, the statement said, adding that the ministry had sent a psychiatric and social support team to assess their condition.

Mahmoud’s mother appealed to the judiciary to hand a down a death sentence to the “monster who raped my boy so that no other child would face such an aggression.”

“This is a message to all mothers: Never trust anyone,” Iman said. “I can’t even look at him [Sheikh]. I hope he dies.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 11, 2014, on page 3.




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