BEIRUT: First Military Investigative Judge Riad Abu Ghayda issued indictments Friday in the case of firebrand Sheikh Ahmad Assir and his supporters, who orchestrated deadly clashes with the Army last June, demanding the death penalty for the fugitive preacher.
Abu Ghayda requested the death penalty for 57 individuals including Assir and former pop singer Fadel Shmandar, known as Fadel Shaker, who also remains at large.
Abu Ghayda charged the 57 with killing Army soldiers and officers, targeting the state, which is represented by the military establishment, and possessing explosives along with light and heavy weapons which were used against the Army. Assir and his followers were also charged with provoking sectarian strife.
Seventy-eight people are being pursued in the case. Abu Ghayda also ordered the release of seven detainees related to the case.
Assir, who hails from Sidon, is a staunch critic of Hezbollah. He argues that the party is dominating Lebanon with its arms and oppressing the Sunni sect. He also accuses the Army of supporting Hezbollah.
On June 23 of last year, Assir’s gunmen opened fire at an Army checkpoint positioned near the Bilal bin Rabah Mosque in the Sidon suburb of Abra, where Assir used to lead prayers and deliver sermons, killing two officers and a soldier.
The attack prompted the Army to launch a military operation against Assir and his gunmen, who were positioned in buildings around the mosque. The Army took over the district after a one-day battle which killed more than 20 soldiers along with 28 gunmen loyal to Assir. While Assir and Shaker remain at large, many others involved were arrested.
Abu Ghayda referred the case and the suspects to the Military Tribunal.
Separately, security measures were beefed up Friday around the residence of Speaker Nabih Berri in the Ain al-Tineh neighborhood of Beirut after the media reported that a suicide mission was being planned to assassinate the Amal Movement leader. Cement blocks were erected around Berri’s residence.
Local dailies reported Friday that the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Abdullah Azzam Brigades had planned to kill the speaker by sending suicide bombers to attack his residence.
According to the reports, Mahmoud Abu Alfa, a member of the brigades who is currently in custody, told interrogators that he was tasked by Sheikh Sirajeddine Zreiqat, a senior figure in the brigade, to come up with a plan to attack Berri’s residence.
Abu Alfa confessed that he monitored Ain al-Tineh more than once and estimated the intensity of the explosives needed to destroy the gates of Berri’s residence and conveyed this information to Zreiqat.
The reports said that the group decided to send several suicide bombers to attack Berri’s residence, given the strict security measures around the palace.
Abu Alfa also revealed that other individuals, including a relative identified by the report as “Hasan,” were also assigned to specific missions.
The reports said Zreiqat had also instructed both Abu Alfa and Hasan, who were apprehended in the Beirut area of Al-Tariq al-Jadideh last month, to monitor the area around former Environment Minister Wiam Wahhab’s house, which is located in the neighborhood of Bir Hasan, south of Beirut. Wahhab is an ally of Syria.
The Abdullah Azzam Brigades claimed responsibility for a double suicide bomb attack which targeted the Iranian Cultural Center on Feb. 19 in Bir Hasan, killing at least 11 people and wounding more than 125 others. The same group stood behind a twin suicide bomb attack outside the Iranian Embassy last November in the same neighborhood, killing 25 people, including an Iranian diplomat. The group said the attacks targeted Iran due to its backing of Hezbollah, which has been fighting alongside Syrian President Bashar Assad in Syria since last year.
The reports said Berri and Wahhab had been advised to be cautious in light of the confessions.