What Comes Next After Arrest of 'Pro-Assad' Lebanese Politician?

Article Summary
The arrest of former Lebanese minister Michel Samaha, who is accused of helping smuggle explosives from Syria, has shocked the political scene in Beirut. Samaha is accused of trying to use the weapons to ignite sectarian strife in Lebanon. Pro-Syrian opposition blocs were quick to denounce the arrest. An-Nahar reports.

What comes next, after the surprising news of the arrest of former MP and minister Michel Samaha? What comes next, following revelations that Samaha allegedly confessed during initial interrogations?

It is hard to anticipate the series of surprises that will inevitably arise from this extraordinary political-security incident. This arrest constitutes a painful blow — perhaps the first of its kind — to a prominent pro-Assad figure in Lebanon. Samaha had even been described as a “man of the Assad regime,” given his personal ties to President Bashar al-Assad. Some have even questioned whether foreign parties played a clandestine role in exposing the first lead, which led to an indictment and enabled the Internal Security Forces (ISF) to arrest Samaha and start an investigation. The political repercussions of this incident started to appear last night, as Hezbollah broke its silence regarding the arrest. On the other hand, other political forces have chosen to remain silent concerning the incident until the investigation is complete and subsequent judiciary steps are taken.

Hezbollah’s stance was expressed by MP Muhammad Raad, head of the Loyalty to the Resistance Bloc, who said: “We will not tolerate the incident of today [Aug. 9], but we will wait [to take action],” adding: “We have witnessed these security fabrications for a long time and some judges are linked to suspicious security bodies.”

Hezbollah’s position takes on greater significance when considered beside the communications between President Assad himself and a number of high-ranking officials in the [Lebanese] government that seek Samaha’s release, according to sources following up on the incident.

Interrogation of the former minister continued late into the night at the division of information at ISF’s headquarters. Sources close to the incident told An-Nahar that the arrest was the result of an “intelligence operation conducted using traditional methods.” The sources explained "they began tracking Samaha two weeks ago, after having received some intelligence information, in order to gather the necessary evidence needed to make an arrest. A highly professional method was followed, including picture and sound recording of Samaha’s movements, to prove the charges against him. Samaha is accused of preparing explosive devices and providing material support.” The sources added: “After all evidence was compiled, the acting prosecutor general, Samir Hammoud, examined the case documents and evidence yesterday morning and issued an arrest warrant.”

Political authorities were then informed of this case. A team from the information division entered Samaha’s residence in Jwar al-Khinchara at 7 a.m. and took him from his bed to the ISF headquarters in Achrafiyeh for interrogations. Another team from the same division searched his residence in Achrafiyeh. The ISF teams confiscated computers, CDs and documents. They also confiscated his car and arrested his driver, Fares Barakat, and his secretary, Gladice Awada. 

According to the sources, Samaha confessed to having transported large and small explosive devices. He transported this highly explosive material from Syria into Lebanon, intending to plant the devices in northern areas of Lebanon, specifically in Akkar. These terrorist attacks were aimed at triggering sectarian strife. The sources added that planting and detonating of this devices was meant to coincide with the Maronite Patriarch Mar Bechara Boutros Rahi’s visit to Akkar, scheduled for Aug. 13. This indicates that the patriarch was a main target in these plans, in addition to Iftar dinners, senior political figures and Syrian opposition figures in the North. The sources noted that some leaflets linked to the patriarch’s visit had been distributed in Akkar.

The sources said that Samaha has been arrested for an initial period of 48 hours, as is the standard for the information division. This could potentially be extended for an additional 48 hours at the request of the prosecutor general. Samaha’s bodyguard, driver and secretary, Ali Mlameh, Fares Barakat and Gladice Awada respectively, were released at night. However, sources said that a member of the al-Kfoury family is involved in plans to detonate explosive devices found somewhere outside Samaha’s residence. Sources said that one of those involved in the bombing plans had secretly cooperated with the ISF. After he was released, Samaha’s driver denied having transferred any weapons or explosives from Syria in Samaha’s car. He said he was released because there is no basis for any charges against him.

Furthermore, An-Nahar was told that all official authorities, including Hezbollah, have received information regarding Samaha’s arrest and the plans he was involved in to incite strife.

Found in: michel samaha, lebanon, lebanese politics, internal security forces, hezbollah in lebanon, hezbollah, bashar al-assad

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