BEIRUT: A former police chief who was detained and later released by the U.N.-backed court probing the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri said Saturday given his rank, he was entitled to step in as acting commander of the Internal Security Forces once Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi retires.
“The law governing the Internal Security Forces is clear and it states that the highest-ranking officer runs the directorate, and that person would be me,” said Maj. Gen. Ali Hajj in an interview to Al-Jadeed.
Late last year, the government appointed Brig. Gen. Roger Salem as deputy commander of the police, a promotion that means he will serve as acting commander of the ISF in the absence of Rifi whose tenure ends in April 1.
Hajj said that in respect to the hierarchy of the ISF, he was entitled to succeed Rifi and serve as acting commander of the police.
“The hierarchy of the [ISF] institution should be respected and the acting commander of the ISF cannot be of a lesser rank than me,” said Hajj, referring to Salem.
“The law will have the final say,” he added.
Hajj and three other security and military officials were detained in 2005 at the request of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon for their suspected involvement in the assassination of Hariri, although no charges were ever filed against them.
“We were accused politically, but the international tribunal never filed charges against us,” said Hajj.
“We were released by the court, which a part of the Lebanese recognizes and another part rejects [as illegal],” he added.
Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt warned Friday, shortly after the Prime Minister Najib Mikati announced the resignation of his Cabinet, that there was a plan of replacing Rifi with Hajj which he said he was opposed to.
“Although he was technically considered innocent of the killing of Rafik Hariri, we do, however, consider him politically involved in the assassination,” Jumblatt, who spoke to the LBCI television station, said.
Hajj, Rifi’s predecessor, was appointed director general of the ISF in 2004 by then Interior Minister Sleiman Frangieh and stepped down later in May 2005 after the assassination of Hariri in a car bombing in the Lebanese capital.
In August 2005, Hajj was held along with three other Lebanese generals for four years for alleged involvement in the case of Hariri’s assassination.
Hajj and the other generals who held at Roumieh prison, northeast of Beirut, from where they were later released in April 2009 upon the order of the STL due to lack of evidence.