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AFP

Lebanese Sheikhs, Syrian
officer indicted for Tripoli blasts

A Syrian army captain was among five people charged Friday in Lebanon over the country's bloodiest attacks since the end of its 15-year civil war, a judicial source said.

 

Two Lebanese religious figures were also charged over the twin car bombs that exploded on August 23 outside mosques in the mostly Sunni northern city of Tripoli, killing 45 people.

 

The attacks shocked Lebanon, bringing back the spectre of civil war days when people often fearfully looked under their cars before getting into them, and a nationwide day of mourning was held for the victims.

 

Out of the accused, two Syrians -- including Captain Mohammed Ali -- were charged with "having placed the two car bombs which killed people," said the source, who declined to be named.

 

According to Lebanese media, Ali is a Syrian security official based in Tartus, a city on the Mediterranean near the border with Lebanon and not far from Tripoli.

 

Neither of the two Syrians are currently in Lebanon, but if convicted, they face the death sentence.

 

The three other accused are Lebanese.

 

Sheikh Hashem Menqara, the head of Al-Tawhid -- a Sunni organisation close to the Syrian regime -- is accused of having known about a "terrorist project and not having alerted authorities."

 

His deputy Sheikh Ahmed al-Gharib and a journalist who had previously done some freelance work for Al-Manar, the television channel of the powerful Shiite movement Hezbollah, were charged with having been "part of a terrorist cell that placed... car bombs which exploded."

 

The three risk three to 15 years in prison.

 

The twin attacks -- which also wounded hundreds -- came just one week after a blast ripped through a densely populated Shiite area of Beirut, killing 27.

 

Fearing more violence, authorities on Friday banned vehicles from parking in front of Sunni mosques across the country.

 

Analysts say the bloody conflict that is tearing Syria apart is spilling into neighbouring Lebanon, pitting supporters of the Damascus regime against its opponents.

 

Tensions have grown between Sunnis, who mostly support the rebellion against the regime of Bashar al-Assad, and Shiites, who back his government.

 

Tripoli in particular has been riven by often deadly strife over the Syria conflict between Sunnis and Alawites, a Shiite offshoot sect from which Assad hails.

 

This is the second time that Lebanese authorities have directly accused the Syrian regime of being involved in attempts to destabilize their country.

 

They have warned that the aim of the unrest is to revive "sectarian strife" that plagued Lebanon during the 1975-1990 civil war.

 

In August last year, security forces arrested former Lebanese information minister Michel Samaha, considered close to Damascus.

 

They accused him of planning attacks in Lebanon along with Syrian security chief General Ali Mamluk.

Saqr indicted Sheikh Menqara for withholding information concerning the execution of this operation.