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Military launches Samaha probe
Former MP and Cabinet Minister Michel Samaha. (The Daily Star,HO)
Former MP and Cabinet Minister Michel Samaha. (The Daily Star,HO)
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BEIRUT: A military judge begins investigations Monday into former Minister Michel Samaha, who along with a high-ranking Syrian military official, was formally charged in a terror plot aimed at destabilizing Lebanon.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati said Sunday that the results of the investigation would determine the stance to be taken in order to defend the country’s sovereignty.

The charges against Samaha, a longtime ally and friend of Syrian President Bashar Assad, and the chief of Syrian National Security Bureau Maj. Gen. Ali Mamlouk, threaten to further strain the already tense relations between Lebanon and Syria following a series of deadly incidents on the shared border between the two countries.

Samaha’s reported confessions to his involvement in the terror plot sparked calls by some March 14 politicians for Lebanon to sever ties with the Assad regime.

Military Judge Riad Abu Ghida begins investigation with Samaha Monday, Justice Minister Shakib Qortbawi said. Speaking in an interview with Al-Jadeed TV Sunday night, Qortbawi said he did not know what was the outcome of preliminary interrogation with Samaha despite a deluge of media leaks that began shortly after the former minister and lawmaker was taken by members of the Internal Security Forces’ Information Branch last week from his summer residence in Metn’s Khanshara-Jwar to ISF headquarters in Beirut for questioning.

Samaha, a former MP and two-time information minister, was charged Saturday by Lebanon’s Military Tribunal with plotting to assassinate political and religious figures in the country and planning terrorist attacks.

In an unprecedented move, Mamlouk and a Syrian brigadier general, who was identified as Brig. Gen. Adnan, were also included in the indictment.

Judge Sami Sader, the government’s deputy commissioner at the Military Tribunal, also charged the three men with “creating an armed group aimed at committing crimes against the people and undermining the state’s authority.”

He also accused the three men of planning to “incite sectarian fighting through preparations to carry out terrorist attacks with explosives” Samaha transported to Lebanon and stored after taking possession of them from Mamlouk and Adnan.

Sader also charged the three men with “planning to kill religious and political figures and working with the intelligence of a foreign state [Syria] to carry out aggression against Lebanon.” Samaha was also accused of possessing unlicensed weapons.

Meanwhile, Mikati defended his government’s policy of dissociating Lebanon from the repercussions of the 17-month unrest in Syria. He said investigations into Samaha’s case would continue to the end in order to reveal the truth, pinpoint responsibilities and issue appropriate sentences in the case of “an attempt to destabilize Lebanon, stir up strife and put explosives in more than one area.”

“We have adopted the disassociation policy out of our conviction not to interfere in the affairs of others. Therefore, we will not allow anyone to interfere in our affairs or to turn Lebanon again into an arena for settling scores or to import external crises to it,” Mikati said in a statement.

“In light of the information and results, we will take a political stance and decision that is in tune with safeguarding Lebanon’s sovereignty and independence and not to allow anyone to jeopardize the security and safety of the Lebanese,” he added.

Mikati said he had instructed security authorities to conduct investigations to determine how these explosives entered Lebanon and tighten control of all border crossings with Syria.

Meanwhile, President Michel Sleiman described reports of plots to carry out bombings in Lebanon as “frightening.” He spoke during a meeting with ISF chief Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi and the head of the ISF’s Information Branch Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hasan at the Beiteddine Palace Saturday. Sleiman praised the Information Branch’s discovery of the explosives which, he said, had averted strife.

For his part, Finance Minister Mohammad Safadi denied reports that Milad Kfouri, who sources identified as having provided incriminating footage in the Samaha case, was still in the minister’s employment.

Security sources told The Daily Star a member of the Kfouri family had provided what they described as incriminating evidence of Samaha saying Assad had desired bomb attacks in the country.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 13, 2012, on page 1.
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