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Tribunal calls for interrogation of Syrian officials in Samaha case

The Military Tribunal asked to summon Buthaina Shaaban, Syrian President Bashar Assad’s senior advisor, to testify as a witness in the Samaha case.//The media adviser to Syrian President Bashar Assad, Buthaina Shaaban speaks during a press conference held in Damascus, Syria, on Thursday March 24, 2011, she announced a package of new measures on the process of reforms and modernization including a salary rise for public servants. The package of reforms were announced after renewed clashes in sou

BEIRUT: The Military Tribunal called Monday for three Syrian officials to be summoned over their role in the plot allegedly spearheaded by former minister Michel Samaha to transfer explosives into Lebanon and carry out terrorist attacks. Military Prosecutor Judge Saqr Saqr asked Investigative Judge Riyad Abu Ghida to summon the two Syrian officers who have been charged in the plot to carry out attacks in Lebanon.

Syrian National Security Bureau head Ali Mamlouk and another officer, identified as Brig. Gen. Adnan, are charged with plotting a terror attack with Samaha, who was arrested in August at his summer house in Khenchara.

Saqr also asked Abu Ghida to summon Buthaina Shaaban, Syrian President Bashar Assad’s senior adviser, to testify as a witness in the Samaha case.

A judicial source told The Daily Star that Ghida will send a request to question the officials through the Foreign Affairs Ministry.

A bilateral agreement signed between Lebanon and Syria in 1951 was amended to include a number of new clauses that brought the two countries’ judiciaries closer in 1996.

The Lebanese judiciary can issue rulings against Mamlouk and Adnan if they do not respond to the summoning request, a judicial source said.

According to the source, Adnan’s request will be sent to him through Mamlouk since the judiciary does not have the full details of Adnan’s identity.

Samaha’s arrest earlier this year has further destabilized Lebanese-Syrian relations.

A longtime ally of the Syrian regime and a former Lebanese intelligence officer, Samaha admitted during preliminary questioning that he drove a car filled with explosives to Lebanon at the behest of Assad.

The case was uncovered by the Internal Security Forces’ Information Branch after one of Samaha’s accomplices reported Samaha’s role in the terror plot to the ISF.

The court has demanded Shaaban’s testimony after Lebanese intelligence officers provided it with an analysis of a phone conversation between the Syrian official and Samaha in October.

“He would call her [Shaaban] ‘our magnificent’ and she would speak to him in a commanding manner, [ordering] him to carry out the duties assigned to him, including the bombings,” a security source familiar with the case told The Daily Star in October.

Shaaban has so far denied commenting on the accusations made against her.

Commenting on Saqr’s request, Samaha’s attorney Sakhr al-Hashem called on the judiciary to abide by agreements signed by Lebanon and Syria.

“These requests need to be in line with the judicial arrangements adopted between Lebanon and Syria. They should be informed in accordance with the agreements signed between the two countries,” Hashem told the National News Agency.

Hashem also disputed the judge’s claim to issue rulings in absentia against the Syrian officials in the event they fail to show up for the questioning, saying that no judicial decision could be made if they are not personally notified of Lebanon’s decision.

“The accused should be informed either through the Foreign Ministry, Justice Ministry or the Higher Lebanese-Syrian Council,” he said.

Hashem also said the Samaha case was following normal judicial procedures before Saqr’s new request to summon Syrian officials for questioning.

Investigative Judge Riad Abu Ghida had completed the investigation into the Samaha case and referred the probe to Saqr last week.

Due to the sensitivity of the Samaha case and its effect on the Lebanese-Syrian relations, the judiciary is reluctant to issue an indictment, fearing renewed security repercussions in Lebanon, according to the judicial source.

“There is a decision [by the judiciary] to freeze any decision-making in the case [of Samaha] or to finalize it awaiting the outcome of developments in Syria,” the source said earlier this month.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 11, 2012, on page 3.

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