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Anger boils over
Samaha sentence

Protests were held in Tripoli on Friday after Michel Samaha was sentenced to only four-and-a-half-years in prison.

Michel Samaha. (AFP/Louai Beshara)

BEIRUT – Protests have erupted in Lebanon over the light sentence handed down to Michel Samaha for his role in plotting terror attacks, hours after a number of TV outlets aired leaked videos showing the former minister discussing plans to commit bombings.

 

“Hundreds of worshipers came out of Tripoli’s Mansouri Mosque after Friday prayers in a demonstration that crossed the city’s streets and arrived at the Taqwa Mosque,” Lebanon’s state National News Agency reported.

 

The NNA added that the demonstrators were then “joined by the head of the Muslim Scholars Committee, Sheikh Salem Rafei.”

 

“The demonstrators shouted slogans calling for Lebanon’s Military Court to be dissolved and for Samaha’s case to be transferred to the Justice Council.”

 

Meanwhile, Lebanese online outlet El-Nashra said that Friday sermons in Tripoli’s mosques had focused on the Samaha case.

 

According to the report the speeches called for justice to be done and said double standards should be avoided “because the continual tyranny of one group at the expense of the other does not lead to stability.”

 

Lebanon’s military court on Wednesday sentenced Samaha to four-and-a-half years in prison with hard labor after being found of guilty of “trying to carry out terrorist actions and belonging to an armed group.”

 

However, the former tourism and information minister is set to be released from prison by the end of 2015 counting “time served,” as Samaha has been incarcerated since his arrest in August 2012.

 

Samaha was formally indicted by Lebanon’s military judiciary in February 2013 alongside Syrian security chief Ali Mamlouk on charges of “transporting explosives from Syria to Lebanon to assassinate political and religious leaders.”

 

The trial of the former minister, the highest ranking figure ever to be indicted in Lebanon, had been repeatedly delayed due to the inability of the Lebanese judiciary to summon Mamlouk from Syria.

 

Damning videos

 

Future TV footage of Michel Samaha plotting with Milad Kfoury. (YouTube)

 

As the political furor grew over Samaha’s sentence, a number of Lebanese TV stations on Thursday night aired excerpts from a video showing him caught plotting terror attacks in a sting operation.

 

Samaha can be seen in the videos speaking with Milad Kfoury, an informant for Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces who the former minister entrusted with explosives and money in return for targeting political and religious figures in northern Lebanon.

 

In one of the videos—which was filmed surreptitiously by the informant—Samaha hands Kfoury a bag filled with $170,000 and asks, “Should I count them?”

 

The former minister also tells Kfoury that he has two explosive devices weighing 20 kilograms each, and adds that detonators have been prepared as well.

 

Samaha can also be heard reassuring Kfoury that only Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his political security chief know about the plot and that the informant will be “100% protected.”

 

In another video, the Lebanese figure states explicitly that the terror plot can target Akkar MP Khaled Daher, his brother, Free Syrian Army officials, and “a gathering of Syrian gunmen at a certain place.”

 

Samaha also expressed his indifference regarding civilian casualties, telling Kfoury in the previous video excerpt that “collateral damage is allowed.”

 

Yet another video shows Samaha handing over explosives to Kfoury in the former’s residence in Beirut’s Ashrafieh quarter.

 

Political condemnation

 

Top Lebanese politicians affiliated with the March 14 alliance have roundly condemned Samaha’s four-and-a-half-year sentence.

 

“Samaha tried to ignite civil war and got sentenced to four years. [Former ISF intelligence chief] Wissam [al-Hassan] foiled this attempt and saved all the Lebanese from war and was executed,” former Premier Saad Hariri wrote Friday on Twitter.

 

“Before what court can these verdicts be appealed?” he asked.

 

Hassan, who served as late former Premier Rafiq Hariri’s security chief, was assassinated in a car bombing October 19, 2012 in Beirut’s Ashrafieh.

 

Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk, who is a leading member of Hariri’s Future Movement, also linked the Samaha sentence to Hassan’s assassination.

 

“We shall take revenge for the martyrdom of Hassan,” Machnouk said in a statement Thursday, adding that “we shall not allow him to be assassinated a second time by the law.”

 

“This is a matter that threatens civil peace in Lebanon.”

 

Meanwhile, Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt—who officially left March 14 in 2009 but in past months has moved closer to the alliance’s stances criticizing Hezbollah and the Syrian regime—also condemned the sentence.

 

“The verdict against Michel Samaha legalizes murder and terrorism,” the Druze leader wrote Thursday on Twitter.

 

Ashraf Rifi, another leading Future official who currently serves as Lebanon’s justice minister, blasted the sentence shortly after it was announced Wednesday.

 

“I would like to announce to the Lebanese people the death of the military court. Today is another black day in the history of the military court,” he said.

 

“The Justice Ministry has nothing to do with this court, and it shall seek all the legal means to appeal this verdict,” Rifi stressed.

 

On Thursday, the Government Commissioner to the Military Court Judge began studying the verdict against Samaha in preparation for a potential appeal.

Former Minister Michel Samaha was sentenced to four-and-a-half-years in prison for plotting terror attacks. (AFP/Louai Beshara)

The verdict against Michel Samaha legalizes murder and terrorism.