BEIRUT: The Military Court, headed by Maj. Gen. Khalil Ibrahim, announced Tuesday that it would postpone the trial of 71 people, including radical preacher Ahmad al-Assir, charged over last year’s Abra clashes, until Aug. 26.
The suspects, including Assir and 24 fugitives, are accused of murdering and attempting to murder soldiers and civilians, committing terrorist operations, possessing weapons and explosives, instigating sectarian tension and calling for sectarian fighting.
If convicted, many of the detainees could face the death penalty.
The absence of Naim Abbas, a major name among the detainees, was one of the reasons behind postponing Tuesday’s scheduled session. Abbas’ name was either not included on the court list by mistake, or he might have been missed by the officers responsible for driving the detainees to court, according to a judicial source.
A number of attorneys representing other detainees were also absent.
In addition, the military court was supposed to inform the fugitives, through direct or indirect contact, of Tuesday’s session. Because such notice was not sent earlier, the court session was postponed and stickers were pasted on the doors at each fugitive’s last residence.
The anti-Hezbollah preacher, whose followers clashed with the Lebanese Army in June 2013, is still on the run, while many of his followers were arrested after the clashes.
Assir was the imam of the Bilal bin Rabah Mosque in Abra, near which the clashes occurred, and a critic of Hezbollah’s activity in Sidon. He claimed the Lebanese government is controlled by Hezbollah and that state institutions, especially security forces, were biased against Sunnis.
The attacks resulted in the death of 18 Army soldiers and around 40 of Assir’s followers. The Army was able to arrest 46 suspects. The families of the detainees have demonstrated on several occasions to demand the quick and fair trial of their sons, after the case has been delayed multiple times.
The detainees went on hunger strike o June 2, and the strike was not suspended until they received a promise that the trials would start soon, said the National News Agency.
The Committee of Abra Detainees had released a statement calling for the improvement of their conditions in detention, and for the release of two sheikhs, Assem al-Arefi and Alaa al-Saleh. It said the sheikhs were innocent and “had no role in the clashes.”