Tag Archives: Wissam al-Hassan
Aside 21 Oct

Beirut: Hundreds try to storm PM’s office after funeral

Violence breaks out at the funeral of assassinated top intelligence chief Wissam al-Hassan as protesters call for PM’s resignation. Channel 4 News reports on why his death has caused so much upheaval.

Violent protests follow Lebanese funeral (R)

Mourners had gathered in Beirut’s central Martyrs’ Square district [photo below] when hundreds of protestors broke away and attempted to storm the offices of Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati at the Grand Serail, writes Dalila Mahdawi from Beirut.

Soldiers fired bullets into the air and used tear gas in an effort to disperse the mob.

Security personnel quickly established a security cordon around the building as opposition leader and former prime minister Saad Hariri pleaded for calm, saying: “We are not advocates of violence and I call on all supporters to leave the streets immediately.”

Gerenal Wissam al-Hassan, who headed the controversial intelligence branch of the internal security forces, was killed along with seven others in a massive car bomb on Friday. He was a strong opponent of the Syrian government and was known for his close ties to the former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who was assassinated in 2005, and Hariri’s Future Movement party.

His death on Friday, which occurred as many parents were collecting their children from school, has largely been blamed on Syria. Damascus has rejected involvement, calling Hassan’s killing a “cowardly” act.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who many politicians are demanding resign over the killing, arrived to the funeral to a chorus of angry boos from the crowd of around 3,000 people.

Many protestors waved flags in Arabic, English and French calling for Mikati to step down. One read: “Get the Syrian out of the Serail [government],” in reference to the President Michel Sleiman and what many Lebanese see as Mikati’s close links to the Syrian regime.

The clashes appeared to have been contained before long, but there are reports that violence has spread across Lebanon, with protestors burning tyres and shooting guns in Tripoli and other areas of Beirut.

The man who knew too much?

Dubbed by one local newspaper as “the man who knew too much,” Hassan’s investigations helped the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, the international court tasked with prosecuting Hariri’s assassins and which last year indicted four men with ties to Hezbollah and the Syrian government.

Earlier this summer, he had uncovered a plot by former information minister Michel Samaha to commit terrorist attacks against high-profile Lebanese figures.

“He was privy to a lot of highly confidential information that was dangerous to many people, so he had to be eliminated,” Karim Makdessi, an associate professor of politics at the American University of Beirut, told Channel 4 News.

He was targeted as he passed through a side street off Sassine Square, a busy area in Beirut’s Christian neighborhood of Achrafieh.

“We came today out of recognition for a man who died trying to protect all of the Lebanese people,” said Adil, 64. “We are embedded in a regional conflict in which the Lebanese people have no control over their destiny. It is the duty of all patriots to join hands and unite to prevent a civil war.”

Political upheaval

Mikati is part of the dominant March 8 coalition, formed of Hezbollah and its Christian and Muslim allies and backed by Syria and Iran. He tendered his resignation on Saturday but President Michel Sleiman rejected the move, saying his departure would lead the country into further crisis.

Professor Makdessi told Channel 4 News that the opposition March 14 bloc would now try to cash in on popular anger at Hassan’s assassination in order to reassert their weakened position in government.

March 14, a coalition of pro-Western Christian and Muslim parties led by the Future Movement, has played a muted role in Lebanese politics in recent years.

“Now is the time for mourning and for coming together to create a proper national security and political agenda for the whole country. It is not the time to point fingers or to assert parochial, sectarian agendas,” said Professor Makdissi.

‘I don’t feel safe’

But many see Hassan’s assassination as the beginning of a renewed campaign against anti-Syrian figures. Between 2005 and 2008, there were 11 assassinations or attempted assassinations in Lebanon. All of the targets were politicians or journalists vocally opposed to the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad.

“I don’t feel safe at all now,” said Zeina, 30. “There are only going to be more political assassinations and all of us ordinary Lebanese are going to stuck in the middle of it all again.”

Simon Haddad, a Lebanese political analyst, said that while a number of other senior Lebanese officials were now possible assassination targets, it was more likely that the diplomatic repercussions of Hassan’s death would play out in Syria.

“His killing will have more implications for the Syrian crisis more than on Lebanon,” he told Channel 4 News. “The Arab countries will start seriously to support the rebels with weapons.”

Aside

Bombing Leaves Lebanon Shaken

21 Oct

Bombing Leaves Lebanon Shaken

The street of the bombing in Beirut that killed Wissam al-Hassan, chief of Lebanon’s internal security services. Credit: Dalila Mahdawi/IPS.The street of the bombing in Beirut that killed Wissam al-Hassan, chief of Lebanon’s internal security services. Credit: Dalila Mahdawi/IPS.

By Dalila Mahdawi

BEIRUT, Oct 21 2012 (IPS) – The assassination of Lebanon’s top security official on Friday not only ravaged a quiet Beirut neighbourhood but also shattered the precarious sense of security many Lebanese have been desperately clinging to in recent months.

Wissam al-Hassan, chief of Lebanon’s internal security services, was killed by a massive car bomb in which three others died and 100 were injured. He had just returned from Paris, to where he had moved his family amid concerns that he was being targeted for assassination.

“We suffered so much in the civil war and those memories are all coming back now,” said Anissa Bushrush, a resident of a nearby street. “People know each other in this neighbourhood but now I feel there is no safe place left. I couldn’t sleep last night because I was so terrified.”

The assassination occurred in a densely populated side street in Beirut’s predominantly Christian Achrafieh neighbourhood. Striking just before rush hour, it caused massive damage, tearing off balconies, smashing windows and sending a tower of black smoke high into the air.

Hassan was considered a controversial figure because of his close personal affiliation to Rafik Hariri, Lebanon’s former billionaire prime minister assassinated in 2005.

His killing is “a big loss for the security of Lebanon,” Walid Moubarak, director of the Institute for Diplomacy and Conflict Transformation at the Lebanese American University told IPS. Hassan had been responsible for uncovering significant security breaches in Lebanon, including Al-Qaeda, Israeli and Syrian operatives.

He was an investigator for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, the international court tasked with prosecuting Hariri’s killers and which eventually blamed Syrian and Hizbullah agents. Earlier this year, Hassan had played a major role in the arrest of former information minister Michel Samaha for plotting terrorist attacks against high-profile Lebanese figures.

“He was a major obstacle for many groups inside and outside of Lebanon,” said Moubarak. “His death means they can now act in Lebanon much more freely. I hope Lebanon’s political leaders are conscientious enough to stay united.” Any divisions would only aid further violence, he said.

No one has yet claimed responsibility for Hassan’s assassination, the first in four years, but many Lebanese blame Syria. There were 11 assassinations or attempted assassinations between 2005 and 2008, all targeting outspoken critics of the Syrian regime. Tensions between the two countries have reached a critical point in recent months as political violence in Syria has begun to spill over the border.

“I’m divorced and I have a ten-year-old son to support. I’ve worked so hard to provide for us over the last few years and now I’ve lost everything,” wept Nancy Joseph Maineh, whose ground floor home was just yards from the site of the attack.

Carrying bags of her belongings away from her destroyed apartment, Maineh said she had “no idea” what the future would hold for her or the Lebanese people.

In a statement following the attack, Syria’s Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi rejected his country’s involvement, condemning the killing as  “unjustifiable” and “cowardly.”

Analysts say the perpetrators had infiltrated Lebanon’s security services. “It’s very clear that there was circulation of information from inside our institutions to the people responsible for Hassan’s killing,” said Fadia Kiwan, professor of political science at the Saint Joseph University in Beirut. “Somebody saw his name on the manifest at the airport and informed his killers.”

Kiwan suggested Hassan’s demise heralded the beginning of another dark chapter of political violence in Lebanon. “I don’t wish to disseminate pessimism but we have to be realistic. These people are not playing games, they greet each other with death.”

In the wake of the killing, gunmen with scarves around their faces have taken to the streets across Lebanon, blocking roads with burning tires and opening fire at passing cars.

“It’s a predictable pattern that we often see in reaction to political events here,” Timor Goksel, former professor of conflict management at the American University of Beirut and senior advisor to UN peacekeeping force UNIFIL told IPS. “Some people take this as an opportunity to vent their anger about whatever they’re angry about in life. I don’t think it will escalate.”

Others, however, were less optimistic. One man was on his way back from Beirut airport early Saturday morning when his car was stopped at a makeshift checkpoint. After showing the men his identity papers and agreeing to a car search, Rabih Baaklini was driving off when four masked gunmen opened fire. His car was hit by 16 bullets.

“I’m not politically active, I don’t support any political party and I’ve never voted,” Baaklini said. “If I can get shot at, then anybody in Lebanon can get shot at. Life is so cheap here.”