BEIRUT: Former Information Minister Michel Samaha has confessed to plotting bomb attacks with Syria’s national security chief with the knowledge of Syrian President Bashar Assad, according to alleged leaked interrogation transcripts published by a local newspaper Monday.
Samaha was charged earlier this month by Lebanon’s chief military prosecutor with planning attacks in Lebanon and transporting explosives.
According to the transcript published by Al-Joumhouria, the former minister, who has close links to the Damascus regime, said Assad was aware of the terror plot.
He was quoted as telling an informer, who was later identified as Milad Kfouri, that the only four people who knew of the plot were Assad, Syrian National Security Chief Maj. Gen. Ali Mamlouk, Kfouri and Samaha himself.
Samaha sought to use Kfouri to execute the plot, but Kfouri set him up by informing the Internal Security Forces Information Branch after holding a meeting with the former minister to plan the killings and identify the targets.
Information Branch experts put recording devices on Kfouri before his second meeting with Samaha, 20 days before his arrest.
The devices were retrieved after the meeting, but Kfouri continued to meet with Samaha until he was arrested on Aug. 9.
According to the published documents, Samaha and Kfouri’s confessions to the investigators contained contradictory accounts on which of the two initiated contact with the other.
Kfouri claims Samaha had contacted him and requested to meet him, while the former minister said it was Kfouri who visited him to ask whether Syrian officials were interested in targeting anti-Assad activity in Lebanon.
“An old acquaintance visited me at my place in Jwar al-Khinshara and offered to collect useful information regarding the smuggling of arms and militants from Akkar to Syria. He also said he was ready to execute security operations against whoever was behind the smuggling,” Samaha said, referring to Kfouri.
After repeatedly hearing Syrian security officials complaining about smuggling, Samaha offered to help by asking Syrian Brig. Gen Adnan, Mamlouk’s assistant, whether he was interested in Kfouri’s offer.
“Brig. Gen. Adnan showed great interest ... and upon my return to Lebanon I called the concerned individual [Kfouri] and I met him at my place ... and told him the Syrians had responded positively to his offer,” Samaha was quoted as saying.
Samaha allegedly singled out religious and political figures suspected of supporting the Syrian opposition as targets for assassination, including Sheikh Malek al-Shaar, the highest-ranking Sunni cleric in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, as well as Future Movement MP Khaled al-Daher and his brother.
Samaha confessed during questioning, according to the published documents, that he had identified the targets without consulting Mamlouk.
“I admit making a mistake by identifying targets such as MP Khaled Daher and his brother, and the mufti [Shaar]. I did so to be done with the whole issue, but in reality all I cared for, together with the Syrian regime, was to block smuggling roads and target anti-regime militants,” Samaha was quoted as saying.
“I regret all that I have done, and I accept the rule of law. I am thankful that God’s will prevailed and nobody was harmed,” he said.
Al-Joumhouria newspaper also published Monday, along with 10 pages of documents alleged to be records of the investigation, a picture of Samaha allegedly giving a bag stuffed with cash to an undercover agent at his Beirut home.
Samaha said Kfouri had asked him for $200,000 to carry out the plot, but Mamlouk approved $170,000 as an initial payment.
Samaha handed the money to Kfouri and told him the sum was to go to the people who would operate on the ground, promising that he would be paid separately for steering the operation.
“Brig. Gen. Adnan borrowed my keys and put the bombs in my car while I was at Mamlouk’s office in Damascus,” Samaha was quoted as saying in the documents.
In his third meeting with Kfouri, Samaha denied Hezbollah had any prior knowledge of the plot.
Hezbollah, a staunch ally of the Syrian regime, did not react to Samaha’s arrest amid reports that the Information Branch had presented the group’s officials with strong evidence against Samaha.
A senior Lebanese security official told AFP on condition of anonymity that the documents published by Al-Joumhouria were “most probably” the official investigation file.
Military Judge Riad Abu Ghida has held two interrogation sessions with Samaha. The last session was held on Aug. 17 and was postponed after Samaha’s attorney Malek Sayyed protested over what he said was the failure to implement Article 77 of the Criminal Procedural Law.
Article 77 stipulates that the “investigating judge must take into account the principle of the defendant’s free will during interrogation and ensure that the defendant’s testimony is not the result of psychological pressure or duress.”
Abu Ghida postponed the session until after Eid al-Fitr, but no specific date was set. - with AFP