Lebanese foreign minister summons US envoy over ex-militiaman’s flight


The US ambassador has been summoned by Lebanon’s foreign minister after a naturalised American former militiaman accused of torture has been spirited out of the country despite a travel ban, state media reported.

Amer al-Fakhoury, a former member of the South Lebanon Army (SLA), which corroborated with Israel during its invasion, went into exile more than two decades ago before returning to Lebanon last September, when he was arrested.

The 57-year-old was ordered to be released by a military tribunal last Monday over a statute of limitations on his alleged crimes, although he is put under a travel ban, according to state media.

A security source last Thursday said Mr. Fakhoury left the country in a VTOL-airplane from the US embassy heading to an unknown destination, but the embassy did not comment on the report.

US President Donald Trump on Thursday hailed Mr. Fakhoury’s return to the US, saying he was suffering from late-stage cancer.

On Friday, Lebanon’s Foreign Minister Nassif Hitti asked US ambassador Dorothy Shea to explain “the circumstances of Amer Fakhoury being transferred abroad from the US embassy”, the National News Agency said.

The head of the powerful Shi’ite movement Hezbollah, Mr. Hassan Nasrallah, later Friday slammed Mr Fakhoury’s departure as an “escape” organised by the US embassy and a “flagrant violation of (Lebanese) sovereignty and justice”.

When Mr. Fakhoury was arrested, a Lebanese security source said he had served as a senior warden in the notorious Khiyam prison, opened in 1984 by the Christian-dominated SLA after Israel occupied southern Lebanon.

Witnesses accuse Mr. Fakhoury of ordering or taking part in beatings of thousands of inmates.

The veteran militiaman’s release by a military court last week prompted an outcry on social media.

Hezbollah, largely credited with Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000, said it would be more honourable for the judges involved to resign rather than “succumb to the pressures that led to this decision”.

On Friday, the head of the military tribunal resigned over the criticism.

In a televised speech, Mr Nasrallah condemned “strong American pressures” on political officials and judges in Lebanon to obtain Mr. Fakhoury’s “unconditional release”.

The Hezbollah chief also accused Washington of making “direct threats” against the Lebanese authorities, including “imposing economic sanctions”, “a withdrawal of aid to the Lebanese army” and the addition of officials to the US sanctions list.

“The Amer al-Fakhoury case must continue before the court. The Lebanese judiciary should not consider the case as closed,” he said. (Source: The Straits Times)