Lebanon News

Future calls on STL to look into Samaha ‘terror’ plot

Former Lebanese Cabinet minister Michel Samaha. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: The Future parliamentary bloc called Tuesday on the U.N.-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon to look into an alleged Syrian-backed terror plot aimed at destabilizing Lebanon.

The bloc’s call came as Lebanese security and judicial sources denied Tuesday local media reports that former Information Minister Michel Samaha had recanted the confessions he made during police interrogation about his involvement in the terror conspiracy.

The Future bloc of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri called on the government to take an appropriate stance on the “uncovered and foiled plot and on this flagrant attack on Lebanon and its civil peace.”

“Therefore, the government, by virtue of its responsibilities and obligations [to maintain security], is called upon to inform the Arab League and the [U.N.] Security Council of the information it has about the uncovered plot in order to place the Syrian regime before its responsibility and face developments that might arise from this crime,” the bloc said in a statement issued after its weekly meeting chaired by former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora at Hariri’s residence in Downtown Beirut.

“The bloc joined the voices of the families of victims and martyrs of the Cedar Revolution in demanding that the uncovered plot, with all its details, files and implications, be part of the STL’s work in order to examine the possibility that this uncovered crime was linked to previous crimes.”

“The victims of the Cedar Revolution” refer to March 14 politicians and figures who were killed in a string of bombings that rocked Lebanon following the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on Feb. 14, 2005. The March 14 coalition has blamed Syria for Hariri’s assassination as well as for other killings. Damascus has denied involvement in any of these killings.

The STL, which is trying to uncover the perpetrators of Hariri’s assassination, last year indicted four Hezbollah members in the crime. Hezbollah, which has repeatedly denied involvement in Hariri’s killing, has vowed not to hand over the four suspects.

A military judge interrogated Samaha Monday, two days after he was formally charged by Lebanon’s Military Tribunal of being part of a terror plot to destabilize the country.

Maj. Gen. Ali Mamlouk, the chief of Syrian National Security Bureau, and a Syrian officer, identified as Brig. Gen. Adnan, were also accused of being part of the conspiracy. The three men were charged with planning a series of terrorist attacks involving explosives in north Lebanon, as well as “planning to kill religious and political figures.”

During police interrogation, Samaha, a longtime ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, two-time minister and former MP, was reported to have confessed to his role in transporting explosives in his car from Syria to Lebanon as part of the terror plot.

“If reports that Samaha retracted his earlier statements are true, therefore the military judge would have been convinced and Samaha would have been released,” a judicial source told The Daily Star.

“But the mere fact that the arrest warrant is still in place for Samaha is proof that the reports are baseless,” the source added.

A senior security source also scoffed at reports that Samaha had recanted his confessions. “The charges against Samaha are documented with compelling evidence, including incriminating video footage, about his role in transporting explosives and assigning people to use these explosives against targets in specific areas, especially in the north,” the source told The Daily Star

The source, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case, said the reports claiming that Samaha had retracted from his confessions were designed “to mislead the Lebanese public opinion that the [terror] charges were fabricated and politicized.” The source added, “Compelling evidence cannot be politicized.”

Hezbollah’s Al-Manar television quoted judicial sources as saying that Samaha withdrew his testimony before Military Judge Riad Abu Ghida Monday, claiming that he had given the statements under pressure.

Al-Manar said Samaha had confessed to transferring explosives from Syria to Lebanon with the aim of using them to prevent opponents of the Syrian regime from smuggling militants and weapons through Lebanon’s northern border, rather than to carry out a plot to destabilize the country.

However, judicial sources told The Daily Star the Al-Manar reports were unfounded, adding that Samaha’s lawyers were behind such “rumors.”

Marada movement leader MP Sleiman Franjieh said Monday Samaha had confessed to attempting to target the Free Syrian Army and the routes to smuggle arms from Lebanon to Syria, adding that his confessions were manipulated by the Internal Security Forces’ Information Branch for political reasons.

Judicial sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Tuesday that undercover agent Milad Kfouri would be summoned for questioning if need be. Kfouri, who sources identified as having provided incriminating footage in the Samaha case, was reportedly flown outside the country just before the police raids on Samaha’s residences in Ashrafieh and Metn’s Khanshara-Jwar, for fear over his safety.

In his confessions before the Internal Security Forces’ Information Branch, Samaha said Assad had desired bomb attacks in Lebanon.

The sources said the defense attorneys have the right to demand Kfouri’s summoning but that the judge has the final say depending on what serves the probe best.

In its statement, the Future bloc demanded that the government suspend the security agreement signed by Lebanon and Syria after the uncovering of the terror plot. It praised the role of the ISF and its Information Branch in foiling “the biggest and most dangerous conspiracy ever hatched against Lebanon since the assassination of martyr [former] Prime Minister Rafik Hariri by targeting civil peace with an attempt to incite strife among the Lebanese.”

“The uncovering of the Syrian regime’s conspiracy unmasks to the world the criminal means the Assad regime has adopted toward Lebanon, its security, leaders and citizens,” the bloc said. “These means are not far from the means and ways used in the assassination of elite Lebanese leaders over the past years, including the assassination of [former] Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and his comrades and the subsequent crimes against the martyrs of independence.”

The bloc called on the Lebanese to be wary and vigilant against “plots to incite strife and undermine their civil peace.”

Meanwhile, Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun declined to comment on the charges pressed against Samaha.

“The case of former Minister Michel Samaha is in the hands of the judiciary. When the case is handled by the judiciary, we leave it to do its job away from political exploitation,” Aoun told reporters after chairing a weekly meeting of his parliamentary Change and Reform bloc at his residence in Rabieh, north of Beirut. – With additional reporting by Youssef Diab

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 15, 2012, on page 3.




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