BEIRUT: Radical Salafist preacher Ahmad al-Assir accused Lebanon’s two major political blocs of conspiring to assassinate him and suggested that Sunni soldiers should defect from the Lebanese Army.
“We will not bow or surrender to you,” the fugitive preacher said, addressing Hezbollah, in his first video address since his base in Sidon was crushed in 25 hours of intense fighting with the military. “And I am convinced that it is impossible to continue living with you except after we break your heads.”
Assir, who went into hiding after the clashes in Abra last summer, appeared healthy but sounded shaken in the speech, which was posted on YouTube. He sported his long, bushy beard and a blue scarf, and spoke before a red and golden decorated screen.
The preacher did not explain how he managed to flee the siege of his mosque, but described the battle there as a “massacre.”
The Army cracked down last June on Assir and his loyalists after soldiers were shot at a checkpoint near his “security perimeter” in Abra, a neighborhood in Sidon. Assir had repeatedly clashed with the Resistance Brigades, a militia backed by Hezbollah. His supporters accuse Hezbollah of taking part in the fighting against him.
He called the Army of a tool in the hands of Hezbollah and Iran.
“Lebanon today is completely dominated by the Iranian project,” he said. “The Army is the most dominated institution.”
Assir suggested that it was unlawful for Sunni soldiers to serve in the Army, saying it is a tool to oppress the sect and employed death squads that murder Sunni youth, and refused to intervene to protect Sunni civilians.
“What are you doing to stop [Hezbollah] and the criminals with rockets and artillery in the thousands to slaughter our people in Syria and rape our women in Syria?” he asked, adding that the Army stood by while the northern Sunni town of Arsal was besieged and when Hezbollah overran West Beirut in May 2008.
“Hurry to the nearest religious scholar and ask them for a ruling on staying in this Army,” he added. “Are you a partner to the killers and criminals when they commit aggression against our people and brothers?”
Assir also claimed that Marwan Charbel, the interior minister at the time of the Abra clashes, told him that there was a decision to kill him.
He said that both the March 8 and 14 political blocs agreed on the issue – March 8 because he posed a challenge to them in the south, and March 14 because they perceived him as a rival to former Prime Minister Saad Hariri in the Sunni community.
“They agreed to neutralize and kill me and my brothers,” he said.
Assir dismissed indictments issued earlier this month against him and 56 of his followers that called for the death penalty, arguing that the Lebanese judiciary is not trustworthy.
He also threatened Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, saying he could not co-exist with them until they had been crushed.
“We called on you many times, come and let’s live together equally, stop your domination and hand over your weapons,” he said.