BEIRUT: Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea said Wednesday he had escaped an assassination attempt when shots were fired at his residence in Kesrouan, warning political assassinations of the last decade had not ended.
The incident drew wide condemnation as security officials rushed to Maarab, the site of the shooting, to open investigations.
“It appears that the shooting on Maarab was by a sniper and that more than one individual may have been involved. This time, I say in all honesty, it was not a message; they wanted to end it all,” the LF leader told a news conference at his residence hours after an LF statement reported a shooting at the complex in Kesrouan, which also serves as the party’s headquarters.
“I was walking with some of the guys and I saw a pretty flower on the ground, so I bent down to pick it up, and I heard two loud gunshots,” Geagea said.
“I thank God the guys were away from me,” he said. “I stayed laying on the ground for a while and then we saw two holes in the wall.”
The LF leader added that the incident, which took place before noon, had required expertise, claiming the shots had been fired several kilometers from the target site.
“Someone was engaged in surveillance [of the site] for over 24 hours and gave the signal to carry out the operation. For this reason I say one of them was a professional,” he said. “Maraab’s security wasn’t compromised, but a professional is behind the operation and he pulled it off from between 4 to 5 kilometers away.”
In its statement earlier in the day, the LF said security at the facility responded immediately after the shots were fired at 11:33 a.m. and located the site where the shots had originated, citing the discovery of casings, which Geagea said indicated the bullets had ranged between 12.7 and 14.5 caliber rounds.
A statement issued afterward said Judge Claude Karam, the public prosecutor for Mount Lebanon; Brigadier Richard Helou, the director of Lebanese army intelligence in Mount Lebanon; Brigadier Joseph Doueihi, head of Internal Security Forces in Mount Lebanon; and other senior security figures headed to Maarab and began investigations.
Geagea’s allies, including former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, denounced the attack. “The attempted assassination of Dr. [Geagea], which comes as part of a long series of assassinations targeting leading Lebanese national figures, is an attempt to eliminate a prestigious and significant figure in Lebanese political life,” Hariri said, according to a statement from his office.
“This terrorist attack that failed ... imposes great responsibilities on Lebanese political and security authorities to follow up on the case, uncover all the circumstances surrounding it and inform the public of what truly happened and what is being planned to threaten Lebanon and its stability,” added the Future Movement leader, who also telephoned Geagea.
Although Geagea said he would not accuse any party in the case, he added that the incident represented a continuation of the series of attacks on politicians in the country that began in 2004.
“We are facing a real series of crimes. Some thought that the series of assassinations ended after the Doha accord, but this isn’t the case,” he said, referring to a Qatar-sponsored agreement that ended days of clashes in May of 2008 between supporters of the Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition and supporters of the Future Movement-led March 14 alliance.
The March 14 coalition, of which Geagea is a leading member, also condemned the attack on the veteran politician.
It called on the government to reveal “the circumstances surrounding this serious incident that targeted a great national figure and a leader in the March 14 coalition, especially since this attack comes as part of the provocative behavior by figures that remain within the sphere of influence of the Syrian regime.”
The secretariat called on Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Justice Minister Shakib Qortbawi to refer the case to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.
During his news conference, Geagea said authorities who were called in to investigate were searching the forest in the vicinity for the perpetrators, adding that an army helicopter was part of the operation.
After the incident, Geagea was contacted by phone by President Michel Sleiman, Mikati, former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, Kataeb (Phalange) Party leader Amin Gemayel, Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt, Justice Minister Qortbawi, Interior Minister Marwan Charbel, MPs Bahia Hariri, Marwan Hamade, Butros Harb, Nuhad Mashnouq, Mohammad Qabbani, Khodr Habib, Nabil de Freij, Nadim Gemayel, Jamal Jarrah, Sami Gemayel, Robert Ghanem, Serge Torsarkissian, Nicholas Ghosn, Mohammad Hajjar, Independent Movement leader Michel Mouawad, U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Maura Connelly and other diplomats, former ministers and officials.
Sleiman was briefed by Charbel and Army commander Major General Jean Kahwagi on details related to the attack on Geagea. Speaking to them by telephone, Sleiman called for “intensifying investigations to uncover and arrest the perpetrator to thwart attempts to spark strife in the country.”