A military prosecutor has charged 35 Arab nationals and alleged members of an al-Qaida-linked terrorist group with plotting to bomb foreign targets in Lebanon, including the Italian and Ukrainian diplomatic missions, judicial officials said Saturday.
But only nine of the 35 defendants are in police custody, the officials told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. The remaining suspects, including Lebanese, Saudis, Palestinians and Syrians, remain at large.
Lebanese police, in cooperation with Italian intelligence authorities, arrested 10 Lebanese men on Sept. 17 over alleged plots to bomb the Italian and Ukrainian diplomatic missions in Beirut, assassinate Western diplomats and attack Lebanese security facilities.
One of the 10 detainees, Ismail Mohammed al-Khatib, died in custody last week from what police said was a heart attack. Thousands of al-Khatib supporters denounced Lebanese authorities, plus the United States and Israel, following his death.
Beirut military court judge Jean Fahd issued an indictment sheet Wednesday laying out the charges and accusations against the 35 suspects, which was also published in Lebanese newspapers.
Of the 26 suspects at large, four are Saudis, five Palestinians and three Syrians. The remainder are either Lebanese citizens or people whose nationalities are unknown.
Fahd accused the suspects of obtaining weapons and explosives to “carry out terrorist acts ... (by) targeting some foreign interests and security centers, including the Italian embassy in Beirut and Ukrainian consulate,” plus local security targets.
The judge claimed that the suspects intended to use car bombs and other explosives to carry out the attacks.
Accused mastermind in custody
Among the nine Lebanese men in custody is Ahmed Salim Mikati, who Lebanese officials have described as a mastermind of the plots and one of Lebanon’s most dangerous criminals, who was allegedly trying to establish al-Qaida cells in the country.
Mikati, 36, from northern Lebanon and the other detained suspects will be tried by a military court and if found guilty could face life in prison with hard labor. No trial date has been set.
Mikati was known to be hiding in the Palestinian refugee camp of Ein el-Hilweh on the outskirts of the southern Lebanese port city of Sidon. The camp is notorious for its lawlessness and as a refuge for fugitives and Islamic extremists. Lebanese authorities have no presence in the camps and officials did not say how they arrested al-Khatib.
Last month, Lebanese Prosecutor General Adnan Addoum Addoum said Mikati belonged to the “Dinniyah group” — a group of Muslim fundamentalists who fought Lebanese troops in the northern region of Dinniyah in 1999. More than 40 people, including 11 soldiers, were killed.
While at large, the military court sentenced Mikati to death for involvement in attacks last year that wounded five people. That sentence is expected to stand now that he has been captured, but it remains unclear if authorities will actually carry out his execution.