BEIRUT: Former Minister Michel Samaha confessed Monday that he had transported explosives into Lebanon with the aim of targeting Lebanese politicians and religious figures, claiming that he was lured to do so by a police intelligence agent.
In a startling confession which shocked relatives, journalists and defense attorneys attending the military tribunal, Samaha detailed a plot which, if successfully implemented, could have pushed Lebanon into a cycle sectarian violence.
Samaha appeared confused at times, faltering and contradicting himself, but claimed he was being watched by domestic and foreign intelligence services who convinced him to carry out the act, “satisfying my ambitions,” and that they used people close to him to persuade him to cooperate.
“I fell into an intelligence trap set by Milad Kfoury, who [had been] my friend since 1992,” Samaha said, referring to the Internal Security Forces informant who revealed the plot.
A former minister who maintained close ties with Syrian President Bashar Assad, the 66-year-old Samaha was arrested in 2012 and indicted the following year for smuggling explosives into Lebanon to target iftar banquets and gatherings in the northern district of Akkar, with the aim of killing politicians and religious figures. Brig. Gen. Khalil Ibrahim is presiding over his military tribunal.
The head of the Syrian National Security Bureau, Maj. Gen. Ali Mamlouk, and the director of his office, Lt. Col. Adnan, were also indicted for their part in the conspiracy. Ibrahim set Mamlouk’s trial for Oct. 16, after it was decided that further attempts would be made to serve him with an indictment. Previous efforts to indict Mamlouk were unsuccessful due to him residing in Syria and away from Lebanese authorities.
Samaha said that the plot was the product of a three-month dialogue between him and Kfoury.
He explained that he was tasked with securing explosives according to a list prepared by Kfoury, and claimed that the list was made on the instructions of the ISF Information Branch.
“I took the list to Damascus and gave it to Lt. Col. Adnan, the director of Maj. Gen. Ali Mamlouk’s office. I told him about the planned operation and he approved,” Samaha said. “I then raised the issue with Mamlouk himself. At first he expressed his reservations, but then accepted the idea.”
The former minister said Kfoury asked for $200,000 to carry out the bombings, but that the Syrians would only pay $170,000.
“I received the money in a bag at Adnan’s office and put it in the trunk of my car along with the explosives,” Samaha said. He said that when he reached Beirut, he telephoned Kfoury and handed over the money and explosives in the parking lot of his house in Ashrafieh.
Samaha said Kfoury was not just an informant, “but an agent” who lured and incited him to implement the plan. “But this does not absolve you from the crime which you committed,” Ibrahim countered.
“Yes, I acted according to his wishes and he made me fall into the trap. I made a mistake,” Samaha replied.
Ibrahim asked if targeting iftar banquets with bombs and plotting to kill Akkar MP Khaled Daher, the Akkar mufti, and regular people was only a small mistake, to which Samaha replied, “No, it was a big rather than a small mistake, and I am now paying the price for my actions.”
“But there is no doubt that I was irritated by the fueling of sectarianism, by the insults made against the Army and by the fact that no one in my state was taking action against those involved in such acts,” Samaha added, referring to Daher’s outspoken criticism of the Army.
“I already had the mindset, and then he [Kfoury] came to poison my mind and he actually did poison my mind. I don’t forgive myself.”
Samaha said former General Security head Jamil al-Sayyed, who accompanied him from Damascus to Beirut, was unaware that the vehicle was carrying explosives. Even Assad did not know about the plot, Samaha claimed.
Earlier in the session Samaha openly contradicted himself, saying he didn’t know the explosives would be used to target Lebanese officials. The court then played videotaped recordings of three meetings between Samaha and Kfoury in which the ex-minister mentioned places to be targeted, locations he later confirmed in preliminary interrogation sessions.
Samaha claimed he “was very confused when I spoke during preliminary interrogation because I went through a very difficult [period]. Information Branch personnel stormed my house in a Hollywood-style operation and snatched me from bed.”
On May 13, the tribunal will hear testimony from Fares Mubarak, Samaha’s bodyguard. Both sides will then make their closing arguments before the court issues a verdict.
Gladys Samaha, wife of the ex-minister, claimed that contrary to media reports, Samaha had denied all accusations contained in the indictment during the session.
She said her husband had only confessed that he was lured by the Information Branch to transfer explosives from Damascus to Beirut, and that he handed them over to the security agency through Kfoury.