BEIRUT: Former Lebanese Information Minister Michel Samaha, who is close to President Bashar Assad, was detained Thursday after authorities uncovered plans to carry out several bomb attacks across Lebanon.
Samaha was detained at dawn Thursday for interrogation over an undisclosed but “sensitive” security-related issue, Acting Prosecutor General Samir Hammoud told The Daily Star. His secretary, driver and two bodyguards were also detained.
A senior security source said investigation by policemen from the Internal Security Forces Information Branch has led to Samaha’s arrest.
The source, speaking to The Daily Star on condition of anonymity, said 20 “highly effective” bombs ready to explode by remote were found in several areas of Lebanon.
The source would not elaborate.
He said explosives experts defused the bombs before they were taken to Beirut.
Hammoud, the prosecutor general, said Samaha “has been taken in for questioning over a sensitive judicial matter."
"We are now at the interrogation stage, the outcome of which will determine whether he will be arrested or let go," he added.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati confirmed that Samaha's detention was security-related and has nothing to do with collaboration with Israel or a U.N.-backed court probing the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
"Samaha was arrested ... for questioning over mere security issues,” Mikati told a delegation of the Editors' Association. "We are waiting for the outcome of the investigation."
Security sources told The Daily Star that authorities raided Samaha's residences in Ashrafieh, Beirut, and Khanshara, Metn, early Thursday upon orders from Hammoud.
Samaha, 64, was taken from his Khanshara home at 2 a.m., the sources added.
"He was in his pajamas," his wife said.
Police from the ISF Information Branch cordoned off both residences, preventing news reporters and photographers from approaching. They also searched his office in Sodeco.
The sources said police filled several large black bags with confiscated documents, a computer set, video tapes and cellular phones from the Khanshara residence.
“One of the bags was extremely heavy. It took four policemen to carry it to the car,” one source said.
Five cars, including Sahama's Mercedes-Benz, were also seized.
The search was called off shortly after midday and journalists were allowed in.
“My husband was arrested for political reasons,” Samaha's wife Gladys told reporters in Khanshara.
She said Samaha was part of a political camp in Lebanon and that she was “waiting for that political team to make a move” in his defense.
A resident and close friend of Samaha said Khanshara residents condemned the raid.
“They resent the way in which Samaha was detained,” the resident said. “They broke into the house in the middle of [the Samahas'] sleep instead of knocking at the door.”
Speculation was rife over the reasons for Samaha’s detention, with local media outlets providing different accounts of the affair.
MTV said Samaha was detained over his alleged involvement in an "assassination attempt" against Akkar MP Khaled Daher, a member of Saad Hariri’s Future bloc. Daher said he was surprised to hear the news.
A police report had said a percussion grenade was hurled at 2:30 a.m. Wednesday into an empty lot that belongs to Daher's father in the Nejmeh neighborhood of Bibnine, in the northern Akkar region. No casualties were reported.
Other media outlets said Samaha may have been arrested for collaboration with Israel.
Samaha was elected MP in 1992, in the first parliamentary elections after the Taif Agreement. He also served as information minister in 1992 and 2003.