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Release of bomb-smuggling Lebanese politician 'encourages terrorism'

Detained former Lebanese minister of information Michel Samaha released on bail [Hussein Baydoun/The New Arab]

Date of publication: 15 January, 2016

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Michel Samaha has shown little remorse, and many Lebanese people are worried about the consequences of freeing a person who confessed to smuggle explosives into the country.
The release on bail of Lebanon's former Information Minister Michel Samaha has raised fears questions over the security of Lebanese citizens, analysts say.

The freeing of Samaha - who was caught on video and later confessed to smuggling explosives and planning assassinations of political and religious figures in Lebanon - has raised a storm of protests from the anti-Syrian March 14 coalition.

Many young people in Lebanon were shocked by the news of his release and blocked major roads in Beirut with burning tyres.

They accused the military court of bias, freeing "a dangerous traitor". Samaha, officially listed by the United Stated as a "global terrorist" months after his arrest, had been detained since August 2012.

Many young Lebanese people have spent longer terms in prison for minor offences such as possession of small amounts of narcotics.

The main question on the lips of many citizens, including politicians, is what kind of message is the court sending?

Security at risk

This question in general spreads the fear that crime, even terrorism, can be committed with impunity in the country - particularly if the criminal is a person of influence.

Many people worry their security and freedom has been put at great risk, and that the law that is supposed to protect them could be easily twisted in favour of a criminal.
Many people worry their security and freedom has been put at great risk

Samaha, a former adviser to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, admitted during his trial that he had transported the explosives from Syria for use in attacks in Lebanon.

But he argued that he was a victim of entrapment by undercover police informant Milad Kfoury, who recorded the former minister handing over explosives and cash.

Samaha was sentenced to four and a half years in prison in May 2015, a sentence widely regarded as very lenient. But Lebanon's Court of Cassation nullified the verdict in June and ordered Samaha's retrial.

The court decided that Samaha could benefit from having already spent an average term in jail under the Criminal Code and should benefit from being presumed innocent until a final verdict was made.

Samaha's lawyer, Sakher al-Hashem, said that his trial was still ongoing and that he should reappear in court on January 21.
Releasing him is a violation of people's feelings and a deep stab at the mighty work that was done by security services
-Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt

But releasing him on bail raises another important question: Why did the court not worry that someone with Samaha's influence could use his time to plan his escape from the country or influence witnesses?

After all, Milad Kfoury, the key witness in the trial, had already left the country in fear for his life following his undercover operation.

'Encouraging crime'

This sentiment was echoed by the March 14 coalition and "neutral" Lebanese politicians.

"The unanimous decision by the court military officers is a consensus to provide a criminal with a gift in the name of law, which is shameful and suspicious," said former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, of the March 14 bloc.

The head of the mostly Druze Progressive Socialist Party Walid Jumblatt said that releasing Samaha was "a violation of people's feelings, and a deep stab at the mighty work that was done and continues to be done by security services in the fight against terrorism, and is legislation for the crime, if not even encouraging it".

Samaha told reporters on Thursday that he would continue to be politically active. "The period I spent in jail was part of this activity," he added.

He also rounded on those who criticised the military court's decision, calling them "defenders of [the Islamic State group] and gunmen".

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