Skip to main content

Seven Syrians held over murder of Lebanon politician: judicial official

Supporters of the Lebanese Forces block the main Byblos-Beirut highway in protest at the abduction and killing of the Christian party's coordinator for the Byblos area
— Beirut (AFP)

Lebanese security forces have arrested seven Syrians on suspicion of involvement in the murder of a local politician, a judicial official said Tuesday, amid a backlash against Syrian refugees.

Pascal Sleiman was the coordinator in the Byblos (Jbeil) area, north of Beirut, for the Lebanese Forces (LF), a Christian party which opposes the Syrian government and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah.

The LF said it would consider Sleiman's murder a "political assassination until proven otherwise", although the army said the politician had been killed for his car.

Social media users pointed the finger at Hezbollah, drawing a denial from its leader Hassan Nasrallah.

"The number of people arrested for kidnapping and killing... Sleiman, rose to seven, all of them Syrian," the judicial official told AFP.

"The kidnappers admitted that their goal was stealing the victim's car," the official added.

The official said the suspects told investigators they hit Sleiman with pistol butts on the head and face until he stopped resisting. They then threw him in the boot of his own car and drove him to Syria. He died on the way there.

Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi is to hold a press conference about the case later Tuesday.

- 'Attempts to scapegoat' -

A military official told AFP that Damascus had handed over three of the suspects and was expected to repatriate Sleiman's body later Tuesday.

He said the body had been found in an area of Syria near the Lebanese border which is infamous for lawlessness.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a body corresponding to the description of the victim had been dumped in an area near the border where Hezbollah holds sway.

"The body was wrapped in a blanket and had been hit on the head and chest with a hard object," the Britain-based war monitor said.

On Monday, hundreds of residents blocked roads in Byblos, with footage circulating on social media of violence against Syrians -- many of them refugees from their country's more than decade-old civil war.

Syrian refugee Abdullah, 21, who lives in Byblos, told AFP that the backlash had spread fear in the vulnerable community.

"I hope that those responsible will be held to account, but not the entire (Syrian) population" in Lebanon, Abdullah said, asking to be identified by his first name only for security reasons.

Ramzi Kaiss of Human Rights Watch said Beirut must ensure "that the investigation into the killing is thorough and transparent in light of decades of impunity in Lebanon for politically sensitive killings".

But "the attempts to scapegoat the entire refugee population are deplorable and should be denounced because they threaten to fuel already ongoing violence against Syrians in Lebanon," Kaiss told AFP.

On Monday evening, Lebanon's caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati condemned the killing and called for "everyone to exercise self-control".