Tuesday,18 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1311, (8 - 21 September 2016)
Tuesday,18 September, 2018
Issue 1311, (8 - 21 September 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Damascus accused in Lebanon

Two Syrian intelligence officers had been accused of overseeing the 2013 Tripoli bombings in Lebanon, writes Hassan Al-Qishawi in Beirut

Al-Ahram Weekly

Alaa Al-Khatib, the Lebanese judge investigating the bombing of the Taqwa and Salam Mosques in the Lebanese town of Tripoli in 2013, has accused two Syrian intelligence officers of planning and overseeing the bombings, further complicating the Lebanese political landscape.

The two officers have been named as Mohamed Ali Ali working with the Syrian intelligence agency’s Palestine Division and Nasser Juban working with Syrian political security.

According to the indictment, published in the Lebanese press, on 23 August, 2013, at 1:30 pm as worshippers flocked to the Mosques for noon prayer a large blast went off in front of the Taqwa Mosque in Tripoli, followed minutes later by another blast at the Salam Mosque in the same city.

The bombings killed 50 people and injured about 800 others, also damaging nearby homes and vehicles. Each bomb contained about 175 kg of explosives.

The indictment says that the goal of the bombings was to retaliate against Salafi leaders in Tripoli accused by Syria of sending fighters and weapons to the Syrian opposition, especially sheikh Salem Al-Rifai.

The investigations published by the Lebanese media have identified a list of individuals that one of the defendants in the case was ordered to monitor. The list includes Ashraf Rifi, a former Lebanese justice minister, whose assassination would be a heavy blow to the northern region of the country and so serve the objectives of the Syrian regime.

It also includes Lebanese MP Khaled Al-Daher, thought to supply weapons to the Syrian opposition, as well as Mustafa Alloush, a former MP for the Lebanese Future Movement and Amid Houd, a retired Lebanese army officer.

Most of the investigations were supervised by the Information Division of the Lebanese Internal Security Forces, an agency allied with the country’s Sunni sect and the Future Movement.

This continues the Lebanese tradition under which the agency investigating a terrorist act or assassination is aligned with the sect targeted. If the target is Shia, the investigation is carried out by Lebanese military intelligence or general security, and if Sunni, the Information Division oversees the investigation.

According to reports, Syrian security sought to recruit Lebanese Sunni activists or Alawi allies from the Arab Democratic Party that represents Alawis in Lebanon.

In a strong response to the indictment, Ashraf Rifi, the former Lebanese justice minister who was also director of public security and supervised the Information Division, demanded that the Lebanese government “expel the Syrian ambassador to Lebanon Ali Abdel-Kerim Ali” and promised “to follow through to reach the truth”.

 “The criminal plot in Tripoli was huge. I learned of it by way of one of the people assigned to monitor me, one of the threads that later led to the discovery of the planners and executers of the mosque bombings tied to Syrian intelligence. The Lebanese security forces and Information Division performed their roles as required in the investigations, and the judiciary issued an indictment that lays out in detail how the crimes were planned and executed,” Rifi said.

“We are confident that there will be a trial that will hold the perpetrators and executors of these crimes to account,” he added, also calling for “the expulsion of the Syrian ambassador to Lebanon, as the indictment details the involvement of Syrian intelligence in the two mosque bombings.”

There was a “need to cut all ties with the Syrian regime, whose intelligence agency has been shown to be involved in committing these crimes.”

Speaking of the role of the Democratic Arab Party, an Alawi party allied to Syria, Rifi said there were “major suspicions. The two cars that were used were in a place controlled by the party, and Ali Eid, the former head, was involved in smuggling into Lebanon some of those involved in the crimes.”

 “The process has not been completed, but it has reached an important stage. I feel proud that the Information Division has been able to follow through on the martyrdom of late [Lebanese] president Rafik Al-Hariri with objectivity and professionalism. It offered important information to the International Tribunal [investigating Hariri’s assassination] … and now there is its role in investigating the bombings of the Taqwa and Salam Mosques,” Rifi said.

He said the two Syrian officers named in the investigations had “purchased the cars used in the bombings, outfitted them with explosives, driven them into Lebanese territory and overseen the execution of the crimes.” 

Lebanese MP Walid Jumblatt, head of the Democratic Gathering parliamentary bloc, congratulated the Lebanese judges and judiciary for revealing the details of the planning and execution of the mosque bombings that had killed or injured dozens.

Syria was accused of assassinating Jumblatt’s father, Kamal Jumblatt, in a case that was closed by the Lebanese courts when Damascus controlled the country.

“These actions prove that the Lebanese judiciary, if it is determined, assumes its responsibilities, and works hard, has the ability to issue extremely important rulings in serious and sensitive cases without consideration for political calculations or vested interests,” Jumblatt said.

“Yet again, the evidence shows that the Syrian regime is intent on destruction and terrorist and criminal acts that seek to strike at stability and civic peace in Lebanon,” Jumblatt said. “This is the continuation of the series of assassinations and bombings that the Syrian regime has perpetrated for decades in Lebanon.”

Saad Al-Hariri, the head of the Future Movement whose father Rafik Al-Hariri was allegedly assassinated by Damascus, also thanked the Lebanese judiciary, Internal Security Forces and other security and military forces that had helped to expose the circumstances of the bombings of the Taqwa and Salam Mosques.

He promised to make every effort to arrest the accused men and bring them to justice.

In a series of tweets after the indictment was issued, Hariri said that it “clearly names two officers with Syrian intelligence, Mohamed Ali Ali and Nasser Juban. It therefore directly accuses the Syrian regime and its intelligence agencies.”

 “We said from the first that we would not rest in our pursuit of the criminals who committed these terrorist crimes and we would bring justice to the souls of our pious martyrs and the wounds of innocent victims. Now we are finally at the hour of truth, as there are warrants out for officers from the [Syrian] Al-Assad regime’s intelligence agency who thought they would not be discovered,” Hariri said.

“We promised our people in Tripoli that we would follow through on efforts to arrest the accused and bring them to justice, from the lowest of the killers to the head of their criminal regime.”

Sources close to the March 14 Movement in Lebanon said they feared Syria would retaliate because of the indictment. There have also been questions about the response of Syria’s major allies.

Will the indictment push them to escalate their actions, or will they separate the issues? Will it influence the dialogue between the Lebanese Shia group Hizbullah and the Future Movement, which has helped to calm the security situation and promote security cooperation in Lebanon?

Syria’s allies in Lebanon dealt calmly with the case of former minister Michel Samaha, convicted of planning assassinations and bombings in northern Lebanon at Syria’s behest.

Syria’s Lebanese allies are not simply pawns of the regime, and they have their own agendas. Hizbullah is not interested in opening a new front in Lebanon while it is fighting in Syria.

Its Christian ally Michel Aoun is seeking the country’s presidency and has been presenting himself as part of an independent current. Nabih Berri, the speaker of the Lebanese parliament, leader of the Amal Movement, and godfather of the Lebanese regime, wants to preserve the system and not to cut ties with the other side.

The biggest winner from the indictment may be Ashraf Rifi, who is presenting himself as the leader of the country’s Sunni forces and has rejected the accommodation between the Future Movement and Hizbullah and its allies.

The case is even more important as the investigations were led by an agency with the security body that Rifi used to head. The bombings also took place in Tripoli, a Sunni stronghold in Lebanon, and they are the biggest in the city’s history.

The indictment may pose more of a dilemma for Saad Al-Hariri as Rifi’s star rises than for Rifi’s enemy Hizbullah.

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