Lebanon’s great divide exposed by assassination of security chief

The Guardian reports: Wissam al-Hassan knew he was a marked man. Last week, as he briefed Lebanon’s opposition leaders on the case on which he had staked his career, the spy chief told them that assassins were again stalking the country.

Virtually besieged in their homes since the early summer, his hosts hardly needed the warning.

Hassan brought with him evidence that he said strengthened the case against his highest profile target, Lebanon’s former information minister, Michel Samaha, who he alleged had collaborated with Syrian officials to plot bombings – like the very one that killed the veteran major general on Friday.

He died when a bomb in east Beirut blew up the car he was in during the rush hour, killing at least seven others and injuring scores more.

A feared spillover of the violence in Syria into deeply fragile and sectarian Lebanon had been edging ever closer to inevitable. The melting pot of the region has barely been holding together as Syria boiled, its fragmented sects increasingly drawn into a conflict that the Lebanese had dreaded but could do little to stop.

The case Hassan had built against Samaha was highly unusual in Lebanon, where bigwigs are rarely taken on. Those such as Samaha with powerful connections are virtually untouchable.

This case was different, Hassan said. Not just because of the weight of evidence against the accused, who had allegedly been taped by an aide acknowledging that he had been given explosives by the Syrian national intelligence chief, Ali Mamlouk.

Added to that were the former minister’s allegedly incriminating phone calls: he had apparently recorded his key conversations, then downloaded them to his computer. Prosecution briefs rarely come stronger.

Syrian officials made no secret of their demand for Samaha to be freed and the case against him dropped. But Hassan defied them, a move deemed crazy by his detractors and seen as an act of nation-building by his supporters, who saw the crumbling of power in Syria as an overdue chance for Lebanon to assert its sovereignty against its interfering neighbour. [Continue reading…]

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