Ex-Lebanon minister resentenced
to prison for terror plot

Michel Samaha was handed down a 13 year prison term.

Michel Samaha. (AFP/Louai Beshara)

BEIRUT – A former Lebanese minister found guilty of plotting terror attacks in collusion with a Syrian regime figure has been resentenced to a long prison term in a retrial following the controversially light punishment handed down against him last year.

"The Military Court of Cassation... issued its final ruling [sentencing] Michel Samaha to 13 years in prison with hard labor," Lebanon's National News Agency reported midday Friday. 


March 14 alliance politicians welcomed the sentence, with Future Movement leader MP Saad Hariri saying that “the terrorist Samaha is returning to prison, the natural place for anyone planning to kill innocents and drag Lebanon into civil strife.”


“The verdict against the terrorist Samaha corrects the previous diluted one which we rejected and announced we would not tolerate,” the top Sunni politician wrote on Twitter minutes after news of the new sentencing broke.


The new proceedings against Samaha have centered on a series of video-taped statements he made to an undercover Internal Security Forces officer in which he agreed to facilitate terror attacks targeting political and religious figures in northern Lebanon.


Samaha was originally granted bail by Lebanon’s Military Court of Cassation on January 14, 2016 as his retrial made its way through the courts.


His release on bond infuriated March 14 politicians and large segments of the country’s population, who were already angered by the lenient four-and-a-half year sentence handed down against the former minister in May 2015 after being found guilty of “trying to carry out terrorist actions and belonging to an armed group.”


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


The former tourism and information minister was 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.


The Sunni community adamantly opposed the court's decision to release Samaha, especially since many Tripoli residents accused of terrorism and radicalization have been imprisoned in Roumieh for years, without proof of a crime or any court decision. 


Ashraf Rifi—one of Tripoli’s most popular political figures—resigned from his post as justice minister on February 21 partly due to the lack of political will in the government to accede to his demands to pursue tougher measures against Samaha.


A source close to Hariri who spoke to NOW on condition of anonymity claimed that the new sentence against Samaha could pave the path for Rifi to return to the cabinet. Although the justice minister handed in his resignation and insisted it was final, Prime Minister Tammam Salam has yet to officially sign on to his resignation.


“This will practically give our friend [Rifi] the leeway to come back to the cabinet.”


The source also said that Hariri pressured Lebanese Armed Forces chief General Jean Qahwaji during a meeting on March 14, 2016 to use his influence over the Military Court to help secure a harsher sentence against Samaha.

“It was in this meeting that Saad Hariri made very clear to the leader of the army that what happened with releasing Michel Samaha is entirely unacceptable,” he explained, claiming further that Qahwaji has “full authority over the Military Court.”


He added that Hariri stressed to Qahwaji that he did not want the general “to do anything against the law. On the contrary [Hariri asked him] to uphold the law.”

Former minister Michel Samaha. (AFP/Louai Beshara)

The verdict against the terrorist Samaha corrects the previous diluted one which we rejected and announced we would not tolerate.