BEIRUT: Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun Monday called on friends and foes to avoid jumping to conclusions about an alleged assassination attempt against him. He asked for all to wait for the results of the ongoing investigation into the shooting incident that targeted his convoy in southern Lebanon.
On Saturday, Aoun’s convoy came under fire in the southern city of Sidon on his way back to Beirut following a visit to the Christian town of Jezzine. Controversy has arisen as some March 14 politicians have cast doubts about the shooting incident altogether, dismissing the alleged assassination attempt as electioneering tactics ahead of next year’s parliamentary polls.
“Whenever any security incident happened, regardless of its nature, we have always called for awaiting the results of investigation. Hence, we call on everyone, friends and foes, not to delve into conclusions and to wait for the results of investigation,” Aoun’s media office said in a statement.
A judicial source said investigations into the reports that Aoun’s convoy was shot at in Sidon was still in the beginning stages. “But what has so far been confirmed was that a bullet hit one of the convoy’s vehicles,” the source told The Daily Star.
“So far, no witness has made a testimony confirming the shooting in the area,” the source said.
He added that Sidon’s General Prosecutor Samih al-Haj has issued instructions to all security apparatuses to conduct searches and gather information about the incident.
Aoun, a key ally of Hezbollah, said he survived an assassination attempt when his convoy came under fire in Sidon, in the latest of abortive bids targeting leading Christian politicians. Interior Minister Marwan Charbel confirmed one of several decoy vehicles belonging to Aoun’s convoy was shot at in Sidon Saturday night when he was returning to Beirut from a visit to Jezzine.
In its statement Monday, Aoun’s media office refuted what it called “inaccurate media reports” and “false media leaks” regarding the shooting, some of which quoted security sources.
The car that was shot at was one of the nine vehicles that set off on the trip to Beirut before Aoun left Jezzine. When the convoy reached the Bahaeddine Hariri Mosque roundabout, those inside the car heard the sound of gunfire of three bullets fired toward the convoy at 6:18 p.m.
Upon hearing the sound of gunfire, they phoned the man responsible for them who asked them not to stop and he informed security officials of the incident at 6:20 p.m., two minutes after the shooting, the statement said.
It added that when the convoy reached its destination at about 7:30 p.m., the vehicles were examined and it turned out that one of them, a BMW-X5, was hit with a bullet in the right rear door that pierced the front seat near the driver and landed there.
While security forces were informed that one car was hit with a bullet, Aoun’s main convoy had not yet reached its destination, the statement said.
It denied media leaks quoting security sources that said Aoun had refused to let security agencies examine the hit car. The statement said that at Prosecutor Haj’s request, the car was examined by forensic experts.
Aoun said he had been exposed to three assassination plots in the past and Saturday’s shooting was the fourth attempt on his life.
The attack on Aoun’s convoy was the latest reported security threat to prominent politicians in Lebanon, where divisions between the opposition March 14 coalition and the Hezbollah-led March 8 bloc over the 18-month-old uprising in neighboring Syria have stoked sectarian and political tensions.
Two other Christian politicians, Samir Geagea, leader of the Lebanese Forces, and Batroun MP Boutros Harb, Aoun’s political foes, have said they were the targets of assassination attempts earlier this year.
Former PM Saad Hariri, leader of the March 14 coalition, has been living outside of Lebanon for nearly a year and a half, mainly due to fears for his security.
Meanwhile, Sidon’s controversial preacher Sheikh Ahmad Assir cast doubts about Aoun’s reported assassination attempt. He asked whether the alleged assassination bid was aimed at boosting Aoun’s election chances following his visit to Jezzine.
“Could it be an assassination attempt with one or two bullets at a decoy convoy? We also ask whether there is a link between his [Aoun’s] fiery speech in Jezzine against the Sunnis and against Salafism and the alleged assassination attempt?” Assir told a news conference at his office in the town of Abra, east of Sidon.
He also wondered whether there was a link between the success or failure of Aoun’s visit to Jezzine and the assassination report.
“Or is it really that the election season has begun and everyone who is cornered somewhere is forced to boost his election chances in one way or another?” Assir said. He added that the upcoming days will provide the answers to these questions.