BEIRUT: More than a dozen Muslim scholars protested Sunday outside Lebanon’s Defense Ministry, calling for the release of a Sunni preacher who was detained last week for alleged links to groups behind recent car bombings in the country.
The Army deployed heavily in Yarze ahead of the protest, preventing the group of religious figures from approaching the Defense Ministry.
Speaking on behalf of the Muslim scholars, Sheikh Khaled al-Arfe said the military had arrested Sheikh Omar Atrash on false accusations. He said Atrash had merely been helping Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
“Should helping Syrian refugees require punishment? Is it a crime to help people?” the sheikh, surrounded by fellow scholars from north Lebanon’s Dar al-Fatwa, asked.
“The other party [Hezbollah] announced it was fighting in Syria and vowed to send more fighters,” he said. “Even [Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah vowed to] fight himself if need be but we say this to the Defense Ministry: We won’t allow you to have double standards.”
“Everyone should be treated fairly,” Arfe added.
Atrash is suspected of having links to groups that planted explosives in vehicles used in recent bombings in Beirut’s southern suburbs, a judicial source told The Daily Star.
The Army is also interrogating Atrash, from the Bekaa Valley town of Arsal, over his alleged role in facilitating the transport of Syrian gunmen from Lebanon into Syria.
Atrash is the cousin of Omar Atrash, who was killed in October after a rocket hit his vehicle somewhere in the narrow valley that separates the mountainous area of Arsal and the Syrian frontier.
Local media reported that the deceased Atrash was allegedly involved in the Bir al-Abed and Ruwaiss bomb attacks. Atrash is also suspected of planning two rocket attacks last May that wounded four people in the Beirut southern suburb of Shiyah.
The scholars appealed to the president and caretaker prime minister to “take a serious stance” with regard to the ongoing detentions.
“Up until now we have been able to contain the youth but don’t let us lose the ability to do so,” he said.
“Oppression leads to chaos and everyone will regret it later,” Aref warned, saying that two other Sunni preachers were being detained.
Another scholar said Atrash should have a lawyer present during the investigation, claiming that the sheikh was being beaten and intimidated during questioning.