Lebanon News

Strife averted after Lassa murder suspect turns himself in

An archive photo of the Jbeil town of Lassa. (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)

BEIRUT: A potential sectarian crisis was averted Sunday after a man suspected of killing a father and son turned himself in to police following talks between representatives of the families over the weekend.

Police referred Anthony Khalil to the judiciary several hours after the victims were laid to rest in Lassa.

Khalil is believed to have shot and killed Ghassan Saifeddine and his son Hadi Saifeddine in Wata al-Joz last week. Khalil is a resident of the predominantly Christian town of Hrajel in the district of Kesrouan, while the victims hailed from the mainly Shiite town of Lassa in Jbeil. The area of Wata al-Joz connects the two districts.

In the wake of the news of the killings, Lassa residents took to the streets and blocked roads with burning tires in several areas in Kesrouan and Beirut to demand the arrest of Khalil, who had fled the scene of the crime.

According to eyewitnesses in Wata al-Joz, Khalil was quarreling with Saifeddine over rights of transferring sand from a nearby quarry. When the dispute turned violent, Khalil opened fire in Saifeddine’s direction.

Ghassan and Hadi Saifeddine were laid to rest in Lassa Sunday amid calls for calm and restraint.

The road closures and protests over the past few days prompted politicians in the region to hold talks with Hezbollah representatives, and led Interior Minister Marwan Charbel to arrest Khalil over the weekend in order to ease relations between the families.

Separately, a Hezbollah delegation visited the victims’ family. “A delegation from the party, headed by Sheikh Hasan Zeaiter, visited the town of Lassa and offered condolences to the Saifeddine family,” a statement from the party said Saturday.

Although the family initially refused to bury the bodies before Khalil’s arrest, Hezbollah officials managed to persuade the relatives to hold a funeral ceremony.

Charbel said that Khalil was handed to the judiciary for interrogation over the incident.

“Khalil is in safe hands and justice will take its course,” the minister said after a meeting with priest Hares Khalil in Hrajel.

Charbel added that residents of Lassa and the family of the victims were informed by the judiciary that the incident was purely the result of a personal dispute.

“Residents of Lassa know that the killings were an individual incident and was not a plot [to cause sectarian strife],” Charbel said, adding that the incident was contained after Khalil surrendered himself to the police.

Security sources told The Daily Star that Khalil turned himself in to the ISF’s Information Branch at an undisclosed location in the presence of ISF Commander Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi, the head of the ISF Gendarmerie Gen. Joseph Dweihi and Charbel.

The disappearance of Khalil after the killings last week angered many residents in Lassa, who accused the suspect’s family and the town of Hrajel for providing cover and shelter for the suspected killer.

Jbeil MP and Free Patriotic Movement official Simon Abi Ramia told reporters during the funeral ceremony that residents of Hrajel respect the rule of law and called on all Lebanese to separate the incident from political and sectarian conflicts.

Ruling out any negative repercussions as a result of the incident, local officials in Lassa said that the town’s residents and the leadership of Hezbollah will abide by the rule of law and will remain committed to coexistence in Jbeil.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 28, 2013, on page 3.




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