Skip to main content

Lebanon jails former pro-Assad minister over terrorism plot

Lebanese ex-minister Michel Samaha is jailed for transporting explosives from Syria for use in attacks in Lebanon
Syrian Information Minister Ahmad al-Hassan (L) and Michel Samaha in Damascus during 2004 (AFP)

A military tribunal on Wednesday sentenced former pro-Damascus Lebanese minister Michel Samaha to four-and-a-half years in jail over terrorism charges.

The court said Samaha, arrested in August 2012, would be released at the end of this year taking into account time served and because the judicial year amounts to nine months in Lebanon.

He was found guilty of "having tried to carry out terrorist actions and for belonging to an armed group", it said.

The former information minister was also stripped of his civic and political rights.

Defence lawyer Rana Azoury, whose team argued that Samaha fell into a trap set by Lebanese intelligence services, said she would appeal against the ruling to the country's court of cassation.

Samaha, who was also once a media adviser to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, admitted in court last month that he had transported explosives from Syria for use in attacks in Lebanon, but argued he had been the victim of entrapment.

Samaha described his actions as a "big mistake."

The explosives were to be used in blasts on the Lebanese border, intended to force the closure of the frontier and stop the passage of Lebanese fighters joining rebel forces in Syria.

"Under Lebanese law, if you acted because of the encouragement of an agent provocateur, that is exculpatory and a legitimate self-defence," Azoury said in explaining Samaha's testimony.

The prosecution charged that Samaha and Syrian security services chief Ali Mamlouk transported explosives and planned attacks and assassinations of political and religious figures in Lebanon.

Samaha allegedly confessed to having used his private vehicle in 2012 to smuggle explosives out of the office of Mamlouk in Syria, into Lebanon for use in attacks on Assad's Sunni opponents in northern Lebanon.

The trial was postponed multiple times because of the absence of Mamlouk, who remains in Syria, until a judge separated the two cases, allowing Samaha's trial to open on 20 April.

Syria maintained a nearly 30-year presence in Lebanon, withdrawing its troops in 2005 after the assassination of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri.

But a series of assassinations of prominent anti-Assad figures in Lebanon followed the withdrawal.

Samaha could have faced the death penalty if convicted in the trial.

The Lebanese judiciary has issued an arrest warrant for Mamlouk and sent Syria a formal notification of the warrant and charges, but received no response.

Samaha's trial came amid continuing tensions in Lebanon over the Syrian conflict that began in March 2011 with protests against Assad's rule.

Beirut has maintained an official policy of neutrality on the war, but the violence has regularly spilled over its borders and exacerbated existing sectarian tensions.

Lebanon has been hard hit by the ongoing conflict in neighbouring Syria. It currently hosts hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees who have fled the violence back home.

The small coastal country has recently seen a surge in militant attacks in response to Hezbollah's role in the conflict in Syria, where the Shiite militant group is fighting alongside Assad government troops.

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.