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Tripoli sheikh places no blame for shooting
Salafist Sheikh Salem Rafei holds a news conference in Tripoli, north Lebanon, Tuesday, April 2, 2013. (The Daily Star/Antoine Amrieh)
Salafist Sheikh Salem Rafei holds a news conference in Tripoli, north Lebanon, Tuesday, April 2, 2013. (The Daily Star/Antoine Amrieh)
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BEIRUT: A Salafist sheikh said Tuesday he blamed no one for a shot fired overnight as he left a Tripoli mosque.

“I don’t accuse anyone, particularly not the residents of Jabal Mohsen,” a soft-spoken Sheikh Salem Rafei told a news conference in Tripoli.

Jabal Mohsen is a predominantly Alawite neighborhood of Tripoli where most residents support Syrian President Bashar Assad. A truce is currently in place between Jabal Mohsen and its majority Sunni and pro-Syrian uprising neighbor Bab al-Tabbaneh.

Rafei escaped unscathed Monday after he and a companion heard a shot fired as he was leaving Taqwa Mosque in the northern port city.

Security sources said the bullet went straight through the mosque’s front door and lodged in a wooden panel.

“The message is directed at the mosque’s officials because of its pro-Syrian revolution stances,” Rafei said, noting it was not the first such incident.

“A bullet was fired a month ago near the muezzin of the mosque and we didn’t announce the incident to avoid chaos. ... Also our convoy was attacked while we were returning from an event in Downtown Beirut a month ago,” he said.

The sheikh, however, was adamant that the incident would not deter Salafists from their support for the Syrian uprising.

“If stopping our support for the [Syrian] revolution is the reason [behind the shooting], then this will make us insist further on supporting the Syrian uprising,” he said.

“If this incident was an attempt to ignite strife, then we will not be dragged into it. We are committed to preserving civil peace.”

Rafei maintained that the Salafists’ support for the Syrian revolt was limited to provision of humanitarian aid.

“We didn’t send fighters to Syria. All we have done is send humanitarian aid, whereas other parties have sent experts and fighters to Syria and we have denounced such actions,” he said.

But he added that “a limited number of young men who share our thoughts have entered Syria but they didn’t take the sheikhs’ permission or inform them of their decision.”

Rafei said investigators told him the bullet was fired from a distance of 200 meters and that the firearm used was equipped with a silencer.

Later Tuesday, Future parliamentary bloc head Fouad Siniora telephoned Rafei to wish him well.

Since the Syrian uprising began in March 2011, Tripoli has witnessed armed clashes between supporters and opponents of Assad.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 03, 2013, on page 3.
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