KAMED AL-LOZ, Lebanon: In a sleepy Western Bekaa town, Mazen Abu Abbas’ solemn eyes stare at passersby from the posters hung on storefronts and houses after his death in an Army raid earlier this month.
While the Army insists that Abu Abbas was part of a terrorist network operating in Kamed al-Loz, local residents say that like most townspeople, he was merely involved in providing humanitarian aid to Syrians.
The largely Sunni town, also dotted with large pictures of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, has become known as a safe haven for wounded Syrians, some fresh from the battlefield. As a result of their work, however, some residents feel that they are being used as scapegoats by authorities.
“We feel like we are targets for helping Syrian refugees,” a resident identified only as Ali says.
“But we’re not offering weapons. We’re offering medical care and food,” another local adds.
The town made headlines earlier this month when it was revealed that Majid al-Majid, a Saudi man sought by international officials for terrorist activities, received treatment there.
Majid, who died in the custody of Lebanese authorities earlier this month, was the leader of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, the group that claimed responsibility for the Nov. 19 attack on the Iranian Embassy.
But while many were shocked by news that Majid was able to pass so easily into Lebanon and seek medical treatment, the residents of Kamed al-Loz view things differently.
“Majid came to Kamed al-Loz with a Syrian ID, using a different name,” explains Khaled al-Hajj, a prominent member of the community who says he helps coordinate aid for the Syrian injured. “We help all injured Syrians because they have nowhere else to go.”
Hajj was detained for five days as part of the Majid investigation and released without charge. He maintains that he was unaware of the wanted man’s identity.
“I didn’t think he was an important person,” says Hajj, admitting he helped arrange care for the ill man, who suffered and eventually died from kidney failure.
“But even if we did know it was Majid, we would have cared for him,” says another resident, who asked to remain anonymous. “We take care of any injured person.”
Abu Abbas’ family echoes the story that he was only involved in helping wounded Syrians.
“He donated blood and would lend money” to them, says his wife Mayada, her wet lashes fluttering against the eye-slit of her niqab.
According to Mayada and other family members, the mother of a wounded Syrian asked to rent a small, detached room adjacent to Abu Abbas’ home. He was initially reticent, they say, but ultimately agreed.
The injured Syrian would turn out to be Mohammad al-Masri, believed to be the Abdullah Azzam Brigades’ second-in-command.
During a raid in early January aimed at capturing Masri, Abu Abbas, who sold phone accessories to support his wife and three young children, was shot and killed in his home. Photos of his corpse show a bullet wound near his right temple.
A military source told The Daily Star that Abu Abbas fired at security forces when they tried to arrest him. Guns were confiscated from the house, he said.
Abu Abbas’ family, however, insist there were no weapons in the home. The wrought iron doorjamb is still twisted, the result of explosives the Army used to blast their way into the house, the family adds.
Regardless of whether Abu Abbas was involved in criminal activity, a tense sense of resentment for the Army has settled over Kamed al-Loz in the weeks since his death.
“My husband works for the Army, but now we’re wondering if he should leave,” says one resident, who wished to remain anonymous.
“If they [the Army] come back, we’ll throw stones at them,” Abbas’ father says.
The town has formed a delegation to request an investigation into Abbas’ death.
“People in the village want to defend themselves. They are afraid, and may shoot at someone if they return. Human rights organizations allow fighting in self-defense if someone is here to kill them,” says Abdel-Hakim Wakid, a member of the delegation.
Hajj anticipates further disputes between the town and authorities, which he accuses of bias.
“They think we’re all terrorists.”
“When you treat people with injustice, eventually you will be treated the same way,” Ali adds. “What causes terrorism is injustice.”