HERMEL, Lebanon: The Nassereddine clan, a powerful Shiite family of the northern Bekaa Valley, is preparing to turn over one of their own members suspected of murdering a member of a prominent Sunni family, clan sources told The Daily Star Thursday. The Nassereddine clan met Thursday to discuss the fate of Malek Nassereddine, the primary suspect in the killing of Ali Ahmad Hujeiri, the brother of a Salafi sheikh and a member of the Sunni Hujeiri clan from Arsal.
The clan decided collectively to pressure the suspect’s immediate family to turn him over to authorities in an effort to ease sectarian tensions in the area, the sources said.
Hujeiri and two of his companions were ambushed on the Hermel road Tuesday as they were driving back to their home from the north. Hujeiri was killed and the two others wounded and taken briefly before being released.
Sources from the Nassereddine family did not deny Malek Nassereddine was a likely suspect. They described him as an uneducated laborer who got caught up in the political fallout of the Syrian crisis, which has exacerbated sectarian tensions between Sunnis and Shiites, particularly along the Syrian border.
The predominantly Sunni town of Arsal has been supportive of the opposition, functioning as a haven for anti-regime refugees and fighters. Most of the Shiite community of the northern Bekaa supports Hezbollah in its fight to preserve the regime and hit back against rebels who have launched rockets on Shiite border villages.
The Nassereddine clan issued an official statement following the meeting, condemning the murder and anyone trying to “sow division between us and our people in Arsal.”
It went on to highlight the “historic relationship” between the Nassereddine clan and the people of Arsal, which would not be undermined by a “mistake” by any individual or group seeking strife. The family also announced its full cooperation with the authorities, and invoked the clan custom of taking an eye for an eye.
The statement also urged media outlets to be “cautious and accurate” in its reporting after a number of stations falsely claimed that two members of the Nassereddine family had been kidnapped in retaliation.
The statement came one day after it was announced that Army Intelligence personnel discovered the rental car allegedly used in the crime.
Ali Zeaiter, the former mayor of the nearby town of Al-Qasr who often mediates local disputes, said the northern Bekaa was experiencing a period of unprecedented sectarian tension.
“Everyone must exercise awareness and wisdom in resolving problems, and not give cover to anyone who undermines security, irrespective of the side or party to which they belong, because the region cannot tolerate any mistakes given its unique nature,” Zeaiter said. – Additional reporting by Meris Lutz