Country Reports on Terrorism 2008 - Lebanon

Since 2004, there have been numerous assassinations and assassination attempts of prominent Lebanese figures, including former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. The attacks targeted Lebanese political and military figures and journalists, many of whom were critical of Syrian interference in Lebanon. All of these attacks remained unsolved at year's end. The UN International Independent Investigation Commission (UNIIIC) was appointed to investigate the Hariri assassination and related cases.

Terrorist violence in 2008 included the following incidents:

  • In February, Kuwait's highest court, the Court of Cassation, acquitted two Kuwaiti former Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp detainees. The public prosecutor failed to convince the court that the defendants endangered Kuwait's ties with friendly nations by joining al-Qa'ida (AQ) and the Taliban. The Kuwaiti government later acknowledged its failure to effectively monitor the movements of these defendants when former detainee Abdullah al-Ajmi, along with another Kuwaiti citizen, participated in a March suicide attack in Mosul, Iraq.
  • On April 23, the Court of Appeals overturned a seven-year sentence (in absentia) and acquitted two "Peninsula Lions" terrorists involved in the January 2005 confrontations with the police.
  • Counterterrorism and Radicalism programs (USD 2.6 million): These programs would focus on enforcing international security agreements related to terrorism and radicalism, countering radical thought, engaging the media to denounce radicalism, establishing preventive security measures to protect infrastructure and vital installations, censoring radical web sites, reviving the role of NGOs in combating radical thought, and protecting Kuwaiti interests all around the world.
  • CCTV Surveillance System (USD 1 billion): This project aims at monitoring and securing vital installations, highways, populous areas, land borders, and islands.
  • On January 15, a U.S. Embassy armored vehicle was atta cked with an improvised explosive device north of Beirut, injuring two embassy body guards, killing three Lebanese bystanders, and injuring 20 others, including one American citizen.
  • In January 25, a car bomb in the Hazmieh suburb of Beirut killed an Internal Security Force (ISF) Intelligence officer that had been assisting with UNIIIC's investigation, along with his driver and four others.
  • On August 13, a road side bomb detonated in Tripoli, killing 12 Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) soldiers, six civilians, and wounding more than fifty.
  • On September 29, a road side car bomb in Tripoli detonated, killing four LAF soldiers and two civilians.
  • On September 10, a car bomb attack killed Sheikh Saleh al-Aridi, a senior member of the Lebanese Democratic Party led by Druze leader Talal Arslan. This was the first assassination since 2004 that targeted a pro-Syrian politician.

The end of former President Emile Lahoud's term in November 2007 and the subsequent vacuum in the presidency left Lebanon in a state of political turmoil. The political deadlock lasted until May 2008, when the government's designation of Hizballah's independent communications network as illegal and decision to remove the Hizballah-loyal chief of airport security sparked armed clashes between Hizballah and other groups in Beirut that quickly spread to other parts of the country. The clashes ended a few days later with the help of Arab League intervention which led to the Qatari-brokered Doha Agreement of May 21. The agreement ended the months-long political impasse and paved the way for the May 25 election of consensus candidate former LAF Commander Michel Sleiman as president. A national unity government was officially formed on July 11, including three cabinet ministers appointed by the President, 16 ministers appointed by the majority March 14 coalition, and 11 ministers appointed by the March 8 opposition (including one minister from Hizballah), as agreed in Doha.

In September, the new government selected General Jean Kahwagi as the new LAF Commander. Kahwagi is a respected commander with experience in the Nahr al-Barid Palestinian refugee camp fighting Fatah aI-Islam (FAI) terrorists in an urban setting. The U.S. government has an active antiterrorism assistance program with the LAF, which includes both training and equipment.

While the Lebanese government has made progress, there were concerns about its ability to combat terrorism, especially in Lebanon's 12 Palestinian refugee camps. A porous border with Syria, weak internal camp security by Palestinian authorities and Lebanese security authorities, and reticence to enter the camps all contributed to a concern that there would be another confrontation against an armed group in one of the camps. The most widely predicted venue for such a clash is in Lebanon's most populous refugee camp, Ain al Hilweh, near the southern city of Sidon. The camp is well known for intra-Palestinian violence and is a safe haven for fugitives. As of December, the Lebanese authorities were reportedly making efforts to capture Abdel al-Rahman Awad, believed to be the successor of FAI leader Shaker al-Abssi. (Abssi is a fugitive, and there is speculation that he is in Syria or that he has been killed by Syrian security authorities.)

UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1559 called for respect for the sovereignty and political independence of Lebanon, the end of foreign interference in Lebanon, and the disarming and disbanding of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias. Hizballah, which the United States has designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, is also a political party represented in Lebanon's cabinet and parliament. While the Lebanese government was committed to fulfilling the provisions of UNSCR 1559, it maintained that implementation of Hizballah's disarmament should be accomplished through "national dialogue" rather than force. President Sleiman launched a new round of the National Dialogue talks in September. (The previous National Dialogue began in 2006 and was never resumed after the 2006 war.) The 14 participants in the dialogue represent the major Lebanese political parties that participated in negotiations for the May 2008 Doha Agreement. After the third round of talks in December, participants agreed to form a committee to evaluate participants, proposals for a "National Defense Strategy," which is intended to include how to deal with Hizballah's weapons.

Border security remained problematic. Even with LAF troop deployments after the 2006 war, the Government of Lebanon still does not exercise control over parts of the border in the Hizballah-dominated Bekaa Valley, in addition to the wider problem of Hizballah's military presence in the southern suburbs of Beirut, southern Lebanon, and parts of the Bekaa Valley. It was quite likely that smuggling of weapons from Syria to Hizballah and other militant groups in Lebanon continued. Reports from the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and the LAF said there was no conclusive evidence of arms smuggling to Hizballah in the area of southern Lebanon patrolled by UNIFIL (south of the Litani river). This was despite Hizballah officials' comments to the press that the organization is now more heavily armed than it was before the 2006 war with Israel.

UNSCR 1701 called upon Lebanon to secure its borders at all entry points to pre vent entry of arms, weapons of mass destruction, or related material without its consent. In May 2007, the UN Secretary General dispatched a border security team to Lebanon (the Lebanon Independent Border Assessment Team or LIBAT) to assess the monitoring of Lebanon's border with Syria. In July 2008, a second assessment team (LIBAT II), responsible for assessing the implementation of the recommendations of LIBAT I, was sent to Lebanon. The overall assessment of LIBAT II was that the borders are as penetrable and insecure as they were in 2007 and concluded that the rate of implementation of LIBAT I's recommendations was insufficient. At the border crossing points and particularly along the eastern border with Syria, little progress was observed. However, some positive steps like the installation of security equipment such as scanners and computerization of passport control have been taken.

Lebanese officials played an active leadership role in the 2008 MENA-FATF (Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force) and the US-MENA (Middle East and North Africa) Private Sector Dialogue. Lebanon's Financial Intelligence Unit is the Special Investigation Commission (SIC), an independent legal entity empowered to investigate suspicious financial transactions. It investigated 186 cases involving allegations of money laundering, terrorism, and terrorist financing activities. The SIC referred requests for designation or asset freeze regarding Hizballah and groups affiliated with Hizballah to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but does not require banks to freeze these assets, because the Lebanese government does not consider Hizballah a terrorist organization.

Lebanese authorities maintained that the amnesty for Lebanese individuals involved in acts of violence during the 1975-90 civil wars prevented the government from prosecuting terrorist cases of concern to the United States. These cases included individuals involved in the 1985 hijacking of TWA Flight 847, during which a U.S. Navy diver was murdered; the bombings of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut in 1983 and 1984; and the abduction, torture, and murder of U.S. hostages in Lebanon from 1984 to 1991. A Hizballah official suspected in several bombing attacks against U.S. citizens, Imad Mughniyeh, was killed in Damascus, Syria in February 2008. Mohammad Ali Hamadi, who spent 18 years in a German prison for his role in the TWA hijacking, was released in December 2005 and was believed to be in Lebanon. The United States continued its efforts to bring him to trial before a U.S. court and has formally requested his extradition. The United States does not have an extradition treaty with Lebanon.


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