Lebanon News

Prosecutor to decide whether to charge Atrash

Muslim Scholars protest Sheikh Omar Atrash's detention in Yarzeh, Sunday, Jan. 26, 2014. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

BEIRUT: A Sunni preacher held in connection with recent bombing attacks in the southern suburbs and Sidon will be referred Wednesday to the military prosecutor, who will decide whether to charge him in connection with the attacks, a judicial source told The Daily Star Tuesday.

Sheikh Omar Atrash confessed that he transported suicide bombers and rigged cars linked to the recent attacks in areas where Hezbollah enjoys wide support, a security source told The Daily Star Monday.

The preacher also admitted he was involved in twin suicide attacks that targeted two Army checkpoints east and north of the southern city of Sidon last month.

A Lebanese soldier was killed and three others were wounded in the December attacks in Majdalyoun, east of Sidon, and the Awali Bridge at the northern entrance to the city.

Military Intelligence officers are interrogating Atrash, but they have less than 24 hours to refer him to the military prosecutor after the deadline to hold him without charge expires. The prosecutor then will have to decide whether to indict Atrash or release him.

Caretaker Justice Minister Shakib Qortbawi said Tuesday Army Intelligence was continuing its interrogation of the sheikh in connection with the recent bombing attacks.

“Interrogation with [Atrash] will continue, and if there is no evidence that he was involved in any security act, he will be released,” Qortbawi told the Voice of Lebanon radio station.

He stressed that the interrogation, conducted by Lebanese Army Intelligence under the supervision of Military Prosecutor Saqr Saqr, remained secret. “No one but the interrogator and the judge supervising the investigation know what is going on,” Qortbawi said.

“Therefore, everyone must wait for the outcome [of the interrogation] and should stay away from speculation and avoid leaks.”

Lebanon has witnessed a spate of bombings, mainly in areas where Hezbollah enjoys strong support.

The International Committee of the Red Cross denied issuing comments about the case.

“There has been confusing and wrong information circulating in some media stating that the International Committee of the Red Cross visited Sheikh al-Atrash and confirmed he was not subjected to torture,” it said. “The ICRC would like to clarify that no such statement was made by the ICRC.”

ICRC acknowledged that it had visited Atrash as part of “periodical checkups of detainees” across Lebanon but said the ICRC did not make its observations public.

“The fact that it visits places of detention in Lebanon and elsewhere in the world does not mean an acknowledgement that the conditions of detention or treatment of detainees comply with international standards,” it said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 29, 2014, on page 3.




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