Remembering Lebanon - Mémoire du Liban

7/30/2005

Le chemin de Croix du Liban dans les geôles syriennes

Le chemin de Croix du Liban dans les geôles syriennes

Témoignage d'un prisonnier libanais après sa libération

Je suis un citoyen libanais de Beyrouth, emprisonné en 1991 par l'armée syrienne d'occupation. J'ai passé cinq années dans la prison syrienne de Mazzé. J'écris ce qui suit en témoignage à l'intention des opinions publiques libanaise, arabe et mondiale, afin qu'elles sachent ce que les Libanais souffrent de la part de l'occupation syrienne: répression sauvage et Terreur sans pareille, sauf peut-être dans les prisons des régimes nazis et de la Terreur fasciste.
Je voudrais que ce témoignage trouve son chemin dans les médias libanais, arabes et internationaux et dans les chancelleries et Organisations non gouvernementales, afin de les inciter à se mobiliser pour la libération de centaines de prisonniers libanais qui souffrent quotidiennement dans les geôles syriennes pour avoir réclamé la liberté, l'indépendance et la souveraineté du Liban.
Je voudrais aussi que les leaders du monde libre reçoivent ce témoignage, qui leur permettra d'agir pour la libération des détenus libanais en Syrie, et surtout, pour la fin de l'occupation syrienne qui étouffe le Liban et son peuple malheureux, sur lequel règne une organisation de collaborateurs qui travaillent avec la Syrie contre leur propre peuple.
Les lecteurs me pardonneront de ne pas révéler mon nom: je continue à vivre au Liban, et je ne veux pas être l'objet de représailles et d'une nouvelle détention, voire avoir ma "peau écorchée", comme m'en a menacé le chef des Services secrets syriens (Moukhabarat) au Liban, le général Ghazi Kanaan, avant ma libération.
Mon calvaire commença alors que j'allais à mon travail dans ma voiture personnelle. Je me suis arrêté devant mon bureau, et un groupe d'hommes armés de fusils d'assaut kalachnikovs m'ont entouré en disant : « Ne bouge pas, nous sommes des hommes des Moukhabarat syriennes, et tu es notre prisonnier. »
A peine leur chef avait-il terminé ses mots, que deux d'entre eux s'avancèrent très vite vers moi, couvrirent ma tête d'un sac noir et me mirent des menottes, avant de me jeter dans le coffre de la voiture, qui s'élança à toute vitesse.
Je me demandai ce qu'ils pouvaient bien vouloir à un homme comme moi, soldat retraité de l'armée libanaise depuis environ deux ans, et qui ne se mêle plus d'affaires militaires: tout ce dont je faisais partie était une association locale pour le développement de notre région et l'amélioration de son niveau de vie. Quant à mes opinions politiques, j'étais un opposant à l'occupation syrienne de notre pays, comme la plupart des Libanais. De plus j'étais un militant dans les rangs des partisans du général Michel Aoun dans les deux régions du Metn.
La réponse ne tarda pas à me parvenir quand la voiture s'arrêta et que les hommes armés me sortirent du coffre et me poussèrent, mes mains liées et le sac couvrant toujours ma tête, dans un long escalier qui menait à un cachot souterrain, humide et sentant le moisi. En sentant aussi l'odeur de la mer, je compris que j'étais dans la prison de l'hôtel Beau Rivage, dont j'avais beaucoup entendu parler, et dont les Syriens ont fait leur prison principale à Beyrouth, et le quartier général de leurs Moukhabarat, sous la direction du colonel Roustom Ghazalé et de ses aides.
Les gifles, les coups de pied, les insultes ne s'arrêtèrent pas, depuis le moment où on me sortit du coffre de la voiture jusqu'au moment où on me plaça dans le cachot minuscule (1,50 m. de long par 80 cm. de large). Et ils répétaient tout le temps des jurons libanais mais prononcés à la syrienne : « Nous allons baiser le plus grand Libanais. Le plus grand Libanais sous notre botte. Pour qui vous prenez-vous, bande de putains, pour vous opposer à nous ? » ainsi que d'autres jurons qui donnent la chair de poule.
Puis ils me jetèrent dans le cachot sombre qui ressemblait plutôt à une tombe. J'y passai deux heures, puis la porte s'ouvrit, et des bourreaux entrèrent, me remirent le sac sur la tête et me poussèrent dans le passage étroit entre les cachots, et de nouveau dans l'escalier pour atteindre la chambre d'enquête. Là, ils me firent asseoir sur une chaise métallique spéciale pour les interrogatoires et reprirent leurs jurons, cette fois à l'encontre d'éminents Libanais, dont le Patriarche maronite, qu'ils traitèrent d'idiot sénile. En fait, ils ne laissèrent pas une personnalité chrétienne sans l'insulter en abondance, disant : « Putains, vous ne voulez pas les Syriens? Nous ferons votre affaire : par Dieu, on vous écorchera vifs... »
L'entrée de quelques responsables provoqua ensuite le silence dans la chambre. J'avais su qu'ils étaient des responsables parce que les bourreaux, en les adressant, disaient : « Sidna » (seigneur).
Les bourreaux me déshabillèrent (ou plutôt déchirèrent mes habits) sans ôter le sac de ma tête ni les menottes de mes mains. Puis ils versèrent sur moi de l'eau très froide, me donnèrent des coups de poing et me frappèrent avec des bâtons, à tel point que je n'arrivais plus à compter les coups . Le sang coulait de mon nez et de ma bouche. Le sac noir sale ne permettait pas de savoir d'où me venaient les coups: j'étais comme un chat dans un sac.
Leurs questions m'accusaient d'espionner l'armée syrienne au profit d'Israël et pleuvaient sur moi. Et chaque fois que je niais, ils s'emportaient et multipliaient les coups. Ils m'interrogeaient et me ramenaient au cachot tour à tour, et je perdis toute notion de temps et de lieu. Je ne sus que ce manège avait duré trois jours que par mes bourreaux et les enquêteurs, qui me signalèrent que je serais transféré à Anjar pour supplément d'enquête après les trois jours de l'enquête préliminaire de la prison du Beau Rivage.
Ils me mirent dans un camion avec huit autres personnes de diverses régions libanaises. Nos têtes étaient couvertes de sacs et nos mains et pieds liés avec des menottes. Le froid était intense et une pluie épaisse tombait sur Beyrouth. Quand nous réalisâmes que nous étions arrivés à Dahr El-Baydar (le col sur la route de Damas dans la chaîne occidentale), nos membres tremblaient du froid qui augmentait la douleur de nos blessures.
Nous arrivâmes à la prison centrale de Anjar dans la Békaa; c'est celle qui reçoit tous les Libanais venus du Sud, et de Beyrouth, et du Nord, avant de les transporter vers les geôles syriennes.
La prison d'Anjar était à l'origine une écurie confisquée par les Syriens quand ils avaient envahi le Liban: ils l'avaient transformée en pénitencier sans y apporter de changement, à l'exception de la chambre où on ferrait les chevaux; ils aménagèrent en chambre de torture, et l'ornèrent de la plupart des instruments de torture les plus horribles et les plus effrayants du monde. Le pénitencier d'Anjar n'est pas très vaste, parce qu'il est un lieu de rassemblement des détenus comme je l'ai dit, et de là, soit ils sont libérés et rendus à leurs foyers, soit ils sont transférés dans les prisons syriennes de l'épouvante.
Le pénitencier d'Anjar est dirigé personnellement par le chef des Moukhabarat syriennes au Liban, le général Ghazi Kanaan et son adjoint, le commandant Adnan Balloul, surnommé « la Bête féroce », assistés par le chef des bourreaux de Anjar, le lieutenant Sleiman Salamé, qui préside la cohorte des enquêteurs Alaouites toujours assoiffés de sang libanais.
A Anjar, ils nous rangèrent devant un mur et enlevèrent les sacs de nos têtes afin que le général Ghazi Kanaan puisse voir nos visages de près. En effet, il s'approcha de nous, et chaque fois qu'il regardait un visage, il demandait : « Qui est celui-là ? » Un officier des Moukhabarat qui avait une liste, lui répondait : « C'est Untel. »
Kanaan nous passa en revue pendant environ un quart d'heure, puis il nous adressa ce discours politique : « Quiconque dira un mot contre la Syrie, nous écorcherons sa peau (ce mot « écorcher sa peau » est celui que les Syriens emploient le plus souvent). Nous vous expédierons à présent en Syrie où nous poursuivrons notre enquête, et je vous conseille de tout dire pour écourter vos souffrances, sinon vous ne reverrez jamais plus vos parents au Liban... »
Kanaan dit beaucoup de choses, mais je ne me rappelle plus de tout, il y a si longtemps de cela. Je me rappelle seulement qu'un des détenus essaya de répondre, mais un membre des Moukhabarat syriennes le roua de coup avec la crosse de son fusil. Puis ils remirent les sacs sur nos têtes et nous mirent de nouveau sur le camion qui nous transporta en Syrie.

« Qui entre est perdu, et qui sort, renaît .» Tel est le slogan inscrit sur la prison de Mazzé et sur les centres d'enquête des branches palestiniennes des services de renseignements militaires syriens. Cette prison est le centre d'accueil des Libanais. Des milliers d'entre eux y sont entrés, mais leurs traces ont disparu.
Nous étions neuf, venus de diverses régions du Liban, à descendre du camion. On enleva les sacs de nos têtes et on nous rangea en rang, les uns derrière les autres. Nous fûmes reçus par le colonel syrien Mounir Abrass, responsable des renseignements dans la branche de Palestine. Il était entouré d'une vingtaine de soldats portant des bâtons et des fouets qui nous regardaient avec des yeux pleins de haine, comme si nous étions des ennemis de longue date ou des soldats de l'armée israélienne. Quand le camion et sa voiture d'escorte s'en furent, les hommes d'Abrass se mirent en rond autour de nous et se commencèrent à nous battre sans préambule, en criant et insultant: « Nous allons baiser votre honneur. Le plus grand Libanais sous notre botte... » suivi par un long flot de jurons qui montraient une haine immense pour tout ce qui est libanais, et comme si les Libanais étaient des insectes dont il fallait se débarrasser pour la survie de la Syrie et sa gloire...
La séance de coups prit fin et nous nous rassemblâmes dans la cour, le sang coulant de toutes les parties de nos corps. Il faisait nuit et le froid était intense à Damas. « Oh ! je n'oublierai jamais cette nuit de ma vie. » Nous leur invoquions les noms des saints et des prophètes, espérant leur miséricorde, mais sans résultat: les loups féroces montrent plus de miséricorde envers leurs victimes que les bourreaux syriens. Quelques instants plus tard, ils nous arrosèrent de jets d'eau très froide. Peut-être qu'ils voulaient nous laver, je ne sais pas: après des années passées à Mazzé, j'ai appris que c'était là la réception réservée à tout nouveau détenu, surtout quand il s'agit d'un groupe important comme le nôtre.
Puis ils remirent les sacs sur nos têtes pour nous mener aux cachots individuels, situés à 40 m. sous terre, dont les dimensions étaient de 80 cm de large, et 180 cm de long: le détenu ne peut s'y tenir debout. Les portes des cachots sont en fer, et ils y introduisent ce qu'ils appellent « nourriture » par une lucarne que le geôlier ouvre de l'extérieur.
C'est le chef de la branche de la Palestine, le colonel Mazhar Farès et sa troupe, qui ont mené l'enquête avec moi. Ils m'amenaient chaque jour de mon cachot au local d'enquête, avec le sac noir sur ma tête. Dès que je me tenais debout au centre du local, ils enlevaient le sac noir de ma tête, et je trouvais Farès assis sur une chaise fumant un cigare ou sirotant un café, entouré de ses bourreaux. Il commençait généralement ses paroles par un flot abondant de jurons contre les Libanais, nous accusant de collaboration avec Israël. Après cela, les coups pleuvaient sans avertissement.
Il n'y a pas de mots qui puissent décrire ce que j'ai souffert dans la prison syrienne :
Ils m'ont fouetté avec un fouet dit « queue de taureau » qui est un terrible instrument de torture ;
Ils ont arraché les ongles de mes mains et de mes pieds ;
Ils m'ont frappé sur mes organes génitaux et ont introduit des instruments tranchants dans mon anus ;
Ils m'ont donné des chocs électriques sur le nez, les oreilles et la gorge ;
Ils m'ont brûlé avec des cigares et des cigarettes ;
Ils m'ont placé sur la chaise allemande ;
Ils m'ont accroché sur la roue ;
Ils m'ont accroché à un palan durant neuf jours avec le sac sur la tête;
Ils ont mis du sel sur mes plaies, et je criais et je souffrais jusqu'à perdre connaissance. Je reprenais conscience quand ils me réveillaient avec un jet d'eau froide, et alors, ils recommençaient à me frapper de nouveau.
La période d'enquête a duré 150 jours que je passais en solitaire dans mon cachot - ou « tombe », comme l'appellent les détenus. Je mangeais ce qu'on me donnait à la main, comme des animaux qu'on voit dans les films. Je ne savais pas ce qu'on me donnait à manger, mais je savais qu'il y avait des croûtes de pain et quelques olives: c'est ce que j'ai pu en distinguer.
Souvent, exténué, je dormais de longues heures et je faisais mes excréments et j'urinais dans mes habits en loques.
Je n'oublierai jamais le commandant de la prison de Mazzé, le capitaine Bassam Hassan, dont le poids était de 150 kilos, et qui se ruait sur moi comme un fauve pour frapper ce qui restait de mon corps. Ils apprenaient des moyens sophistiqués de torture en regardant les films, comme je l'ai appris plus tard de la bouche d'anciens prisonniers.
Beaucoup de prisonniers libanais sont morts à Mazzé, sous l'effet de la torture infligée par le capitaine Bassam Hassan et ses tortionnaires, au nombre de 14 officiers, desquels je me rappelle Salah Zoghbi, Abdel Razzak Halabi, Bassam Moustapha, Hissam Succar et Mohammad Moufleh, en plus d'une foule d'assistants et de soldats que nous appelions « les Bourreaux ».
Finalement, ils m'obligèrent à signer un procès verbal dont j'ignore le contenu.
Puis ils me permirent de prendre un bain, ils me rasèrent les cheveux et me donnèrent des habits semblables à l'uniforme des soldats syriens. Puis un des bourreaux me dit : « On t'a donné un nouveau nom. Ce sera dorénavant ton nom jusqu'à ta sortie d'ici. Garde toi de prononcer ton vrai nom devant les autres prisonniers. Tu dois complètement l'oublier, sinon on te renverra à la 'tombe'. Compris ? »
Troquer mon nom contre un autre signifiait que je n'existais pas pour les autorités syriennes et que je n'étais jamais entré dans une prison syrienne. C'est d'ailleurs le cas de tous les prisonniers libanais dans les prisons syriennes, dont les parents cherchent en vain à avoir des nouvelles, parce qu'ils n'existent pas sur les listes de détenus. Il faudrait donc obliger les autorités syriennes à révéler leurs véritables noms.
On me transféra ensuite dans un cachot plus grand, avec un nombre de jeunes gens libanais et jordaniens, tous accusés de menace à la sécurité syrienne ! Nous étions environ 25 prisonniers, et le cachot, souterrain, ne faisait pas plus de 12 mètres carrés. En été nous suffoquions à cause de la chaleur et de l'humidité, et en hiver, nous grelottions à cause du froid. Et de temps en temps, ils se rappelaient à notre souvenir avec une séance de torture pour que nous n'oubliions pas.
La nuit dans la prison de Mazzé est vraiment terrifiante, si horrible qu'aucun film d'horreur n'en a jamais présenté de telle: c'est le calme plat, entrecoupé de cris, et même, de hurlements de douleur qui nous coupaient le souffle, à cause des séances de torture électrique ou autre moyens civilisés qu'employaient les Moukhabarat syriennes. Après cela, une nouvelle pause de calme est suivie de hurlements encore plus terribles ! Mon Dieu ! cette nuit ne finira-t-elle pas ? Alors, les prisonniers musulmans scandaient le Allah Akbar à voix basse, et nous, les chrétiens, nous priions Sainte Vierge à voix encore plus basse ! Mon Dieu ! cette nuit ne finira-t-elle pas ?
J'ai appris par la suite que mes parents avaient tenté de parvenir à la prison, après avoir localisé le lieu où j'étais, parce qu'ils avaient soudoyé un officier syrien. Ils se présentèrent à la porte de la prison, mais son directeur, Bassam Hassan, refusa constamment d'admettre la présence d'un seul détenu libanais, tout en cherchant, avec ses assistants, à extorquer de l'argent aux parents avec la collaboration des officiers des Moukhabarat au Liban, à commencer par Ghazi Kanaan, Roustom Ghazalé et Adnan Balloul.
Il y avait environ 150 détenus libanais à Mazzé, et pourtant, nos geôliers refusaient d'admettre la présence d'un seul Libanais. Ils nous obligeaient même à parler avec l'accent syrien pour effacer nos traces.
Il n'y avait pas de service médical dans les geôles syriennes, et pas de procès pour la plupart des détenus. Quant à la cour qui jugeait quelques-uns des Libanais, elle était la « Troisième cour de campagne du corps expéditionnaire syrien occupant le Liban ». Ce qui signifie que l'Armée syrienne appliquait bel et bien la loi martiale à l'encontre des Libanais, malgré ce que le régime collaborateur à Beyrouth prétend de la présence d'un Etat et d'un gouvernement ! Quelle honte !
Notre régime alimentaire consistait en pommes de terre, en olives, en blé concassé et en choux-fleurs tous les jours. Nous passions le temps à pleurer et à raconter des nouvelles de notre pays, et à écouter les récits des nouveaux détenus, et à panser leurs blessures avec de l'eau et les morceaux d'étoffe déchirés des habits que les prisonniers libérés laissaient derrière eux. Les Syriens déserteurs du service militaire qui purgeaient leur peine d'emprisonnement dans l'une des ailes de la prison de Mazzé s'occupaient de notre service. On les appelait les Déserteurs.
Quant aux malades proche de la mort, on les envoyait à l'hôpital Al-Mouassat, qui était proche de la prison où la police militaire montait la garde. Une fois, un des détenus mourut parmi nous après de sévères tortures, parce qu'il était accusé de collaboration avec les Forces libanaises: après une séance de torture à l'électricité, il l'avaient renvoyé au cachot solitaire. Mais ayant constaté qu'il était mourant, ils nous l'avaient ramené au grand cachot alors qu'il était devenu bleu, et que la bave coulait de sa bouche, et que le sang coulait un peu de ses oreilles et de son nez. Nous dîmes aux bourreaux qu'il mourait et que nous ne pouvions rien faire pour lui. Ils nous répondirent : « Qu'il meure, que Dieu ne le ramène pas. Que Dieu n'en ramène aucun ! »
Nous essayâmes de l'aider en utilisant les moyens de réanimation et en le massant et en essuyant son visage avec de l'eau, mais aussi tôt, il commença à haleter, puis, dans un dernier soubresaut, presque inconscient, il nous regarda, nous sourit d'un air triste et mourut. Nous nous mîmes à crier, demandant l'aide de nos geôliers. Et quand nous leur dîmes qu'il était mort, ils se mirent à nous insulter, puis entrèrent et le portèrent à l'hôpital Al-Mouassat, mais il était trop tard. Nous apprîmes par la suite qu'il avait rejoint la longue liste de Libanais enterrés dans les fosses communes proches de la prison de Mazzé, où les Forces spéciales syriennes montent la garde pour empêcher quiconque de s'approcher sans permission spéciale.
Le supplice à la prison de Mazzé n'est rien, comparé avec ceux des prisons de Sabh' Bahrat de Damas, des Services de renseignements de l'Armée de l'air syrienne ou de Palmyre, où on laisse les chiens affamés terroriser les prisonniers, et où les condamnés à mort sont empalés ; ceci, en plus de l'utilisation des serpents et des rats dans les séances de torture, et aussi d'autres moyens qui font se dresser les cheveux sur la tête, comme dans les films d'épouvante.
Parmi les histoires de la prison de Mazzé où j'ai passé cinq ans de ma vie, il y a celle de l'ancien député libanais, le défunt Dr Farid Serhal, qui y a été un invité, quand il fut emprisonné en 1989, ayant été enlevé par les Syriens. En plus des coups légers, ils le forçaient à nettoyer les toilettes et essuyer la terre pour l'humilier, parce qu'il était candidat à la Présidence de la République libanaise, et ils l'appelaient « Le Chien ».
Quant à Boutros Khawand, il se trouve dans l'aile 601 de la prison de Mazzé. Il est devenu de la peau sur les os à force d'humiliation et de torture.
Je n'oublierai jamais la torture que les bourreaux syriens infligèrent à un jeune soldat libanais accusé d'avoir milité contre l'occupation syrienne : ils le crucifièrent sur une grande croix de bois - parce qu'il était chrétien - comme a dit le commandant de la prison, Bassam Hassan, puis ils le forcèrent à marcher en rond en le rouant de coups, comme s'il était un cheval, puis ils fixèrent la croix avec un palan et le laissèrent là, pendant neuf jours au soleil. Il saignait de la bouche, des oreilles et de partout.
Et quand Bassel El-Assad est mort, nos tortionnaires se jetèrent sur nous comme des taureaux en fureur, ils nous battirent et nous laissèrent sans manger durant une semaine parce qu'ils avaient cru que nous étions contents de sa mort !
Après cinq années passées en prison sans jugement comme tous les Libanais détenus là, les Syriens, répondant aux interventions amies, décidèrent de me libérer. Ils me transportèrent dans un camion à Anjar, où je m'assis par terre en attendant l'arrivée du général Ghazi Kanaan qui me déclara en arrivant : « J'espère que tu as appris la leçon, et je te préviens que la prochaine fois je broierai ta chair et tes os, et il faut que tu saches, toi et ceux qui sont derrière toi, que vous vivrez toujours sous notre botte, et quoique vous fassiez, votre destinée c'est la Syrie. »
Ils me transférèrent ensuite à la prison de Anjar où Adnan Balloul et ses bourreaux me reçurent avec une passe de coups d'adieu en attendant de me livrer aux services de renseignement libanais, qui leur sont soumis. Et de nouveau, tous les spectacles de torture durant cinq années ne leur ayant pas suffi, ils me battirent avec sauvagerie. Je n'oublierai jamais la vue du chef des tortionnaires de Anjar, le capitaine Sleimane Salamé: tous ceux qui ont passé par cette prison sont d'accord pour dire que c'est l'homme le plus brutal sur terre.
Les agents des services de renseignement libanais collaborateurs me reçurent à dix heures du soir. Le chef du service d'enquête au centre d'arrêt du Ministère libanais de la défense, Imad Kaakour, m'a immédiatement roué de coups, en guise d'effectuer une enquête. Je lui dis : « Cinq années de torture en Syrie, ne suffisent-elles pas ? Que veux-tu encore de moi ? J'ai oublié comment on parle la langue libanaise, j'ai même oublié les noms de mes parents, Que veux-tu encore de moi ? »
Mes paroles ne servirent à rien, car il voulait me frapper et il voulait établir un procès-verbal d'enquête pour le présenter à son supérieur, le collaborateur Jamil Es-Sayyed. Ils me forcèrent donc à apposer mon empreinte digitale sur une feuille vierge, puis me transférèrent à la prison de la Police militaire du Palais Noura, où j'ai passé trois jours avant qu'un politicien collaborateur de la Syrie n'intervienne pour leur dire : « Cinq années en Syrie suffisent pour le discipliner. Que voulez-vous encore ? Il n'est plus que l'ombre d'un homme... »
Et ainsi je fus libéré.
Il me reste à signaler que le criminel rescapé de la prison de Roumié, Hussein Taliss, accusé du meurtre de l'attaché militaire français à Hazmié, de l'attentat contre le Président Camille Chamoun et de l'explosion de dizaines de voitures piégées à Beyrouth-Est, est un des principaux enquêteurs à Mazzé, et qu'il est l'enquêteur qui s'occupe des prisonniers libanais. Il est enrôlé dans les Moukhabarat syriennes, section Liban et est préposé à l'exécution des grandes opérations de sécurité syrienne au Liban. On dit qu'il est derrière de nombreux crimes. Il vit à Damas avec sa famille dans le quartier Abou Remmané, sous un nom d'emprunt.


Lettre de la prison de Mazzé,
Témoignage du journaliste syrien Nizar Nayyouf

Nous publions le passage suivant de la lettre du journaliste syrien Nizar Nayyouf au Comité de la commémoration par l'UNESCO du Jour de la presse mondiale à l'occasion de son obtention du Prix international de la liberté de la presse :
« Une des plus graves séquelles de la guerre criminelle libanaise est le drame de la disparition de plus de 18,ooo citoyens libanais, dont le sort est encore inconnu de leurs parents. Mais ce que personne ne sait et que je vais révéler maintenant à l'opinion publique pour la première fois, c'est qu'une grande partie de ces disparus sont devenus des squelettes dans les fosses communes syriennes mentionnées plus haut. (En particulier dans la campagne autour de Damas et dans les Mohafazat de Homs, Hama et Idlib. Cependant celle de la prison de Palmyre est la plus terrible et la plus vaste puisqu'elle contient environ 20 mille squelettes de prisonniers exécutés dans ladite prison, sous les ordres de Rifaat Assad et du commandant de la prison de Palmyre, le colonel Faiçal Ghanem.) La plupart des Libanais kidnappés vers la Syrie par les services syriens, soit environ 2800, sont devenus des squelettes, froidement exécutés sous diverses accusations se rapportant à la résistance contre les Syriens... Je prie le Secrétaire général de l'ONU, M. Koffi Annan, et de la responsable du dossier des Droits de l'homme, dont je sais qu'ils sont dans cette salle, de nommer immédiatement une Commission d'enquête internationale, conformément aux clause de la Convention de Genève, pour instruire ce fait avant que les Moukhabarat syriennes ne parviennent à effacer les traces de ces fosses communes, ce qu'ils ont effectivement commencé à faire. De même, je prie la Justice libanaise et ses procureurs, en particulier sous le régime du noble et droit Président Emile Lahoud, d'intervenir... »

La prison militaire de Mazzé
Damas, Syrie
1er mai, 2000.

Testimony of a liberated Lebanese prisoner.

The way to Golgotha, from Lebanon to the Syrian prisons

Testimony of a liberated Lebanese prisoner.

I am a Lebanese citizen born in Beirut, arrested by the Syrian occupation forces in 1991. I spent five years in the Syrian Mazzeh prison. Hereunder is my testimony to the Lebanese, Arab and international public opinions in order to reveal what the Lebanese face in brutal coercion and terrorism unequaled even in the worst films of terror and the nazi and fascist concentration camps.

I hope this testimony will find its way to the Lebanese, Arab and international media in order to spur international organizations and Ministries of Foreign Affairs to intervene and liberate the hundreds of Lebanese prisoners subject to daily torture in the Syrian prisons only because they demand Lebanon's freedom, independence and sovereignty.I also hope the leaders of the Free World will read my testimony and that it will prompt them to intervene for the liberation of Lebanese political prisoners in Syria and ending the Syrian occupation of Lebanon and the removal of its yoke from his people in distress who are governed by a gang of yes-men under Syrian control.

My readers will forgive me for not revealing my name because I am still living in Lebanon and wish to avoid being arrested again and "skinned alive", as Ghazi Kanaan, the chief of the Syrian Mokhabarat (Secret Service) in Lebanon, threatened me before liberating me.My way to Golgotha began as I was going to work in my private car. When I left the car before my office, a bunch of armed men surrounded me pointing their Kalashnikovs to my face. They introduced themselves saying: "Don't move or say anything. We are from the Syrian Mokhabarat and you are under arrest." No sooner had their chief stopped speaking than two of his men rushed upon me and placed a black bag over my head and handcuffed me.

They then threw me in the trunk of the car and sped away.I took to wonder what they wanted from me, a retired soldier from the Lebanese Army since about two years with no military activity since then,except being a member of a local society for the promotion of our region and the living conditions of its inhabitants. As for my political inclinations they consist in opposing Syrian occupation to our country, as is the case of most of my countrymen. I am also active as a partisan of General Michel Aoun in the two Metn districts. I soon got my answer, since the car stopped and my kidnappers retrieved me from the trunk of the car and pushed me, handcuffed and my head still in the black bag, down a long stairs to a moist and mouldy underground cell, where I could smell the sea.

I immediately realized that I was detained in the notorious Hotel Beau Rivage, transformed by the Syrian Mokhabarat into a Beirut central prison and Mokhabarat Head Quarters, headed by Colonel Rustom Ghazaleh and his henchmen. The blows, kicks and curses did not stop since I was retrieved from the car and until I reached the black cell measuring 1.50 cm long by 80 cm wide.They hollered all the way curses on the Lebanese, saying in the Syrian accent: "We want to fuck the greatest Lebanese. The greatest Lebanese is no better than my shoe. Who do you think you prostitutes are to oppose us?"

As well as other hair raising curses. They then threw me in the cell that is more like a tomb. A couple of hours later, the door opened and the henchmen came in, put the black bag again over my head and pushed me before them through the corridor separating the cells up to the inquisition room, where they sat me on a metal chair specially designed for the inquest. They cursed the Lebanese and the Maronite Patriarch Mar Nasrallah Sfeir, saying he was senile and stupid. They left no Christian leader without cursing him, saying: "You, prostitutes, do not want the Syrians? We shall settle accounts with you!

By God, we shall skin you alive?"A little later, silence fell in the room upon the entry of some higher-ranking elements as I inferred from the henchmen who addressed them as "sir".The henchmen undressed - or rather tore off my clothes - while I was still handcuffed and the black bag over my head. Thereupon, they showered me with very cold water and fell upon me, boxing and beating me with batons.

Bleeding from my nose and mouth, I couldn't count the blows I received, and I couldn't see where the as absolutely opaque. I felt like a cat in a bag.

Accusations of gathering information on the Syrian Army in my region on behalf of Israel fell upon me from all sides. And every time I denied the accusations, they rotation between interrogation and return to the cell continued until I lost all sense of space and time. I learned that this lasted for three days from my torturers and the investigators when they informed me that preliminary investigation in the "Beau Rivage prison". We were a group of nine detainees from various Lebanese regions when we were placed on a truck, our heads in bags, handcuffed and with our feet tied. The cold was intense and it was raining heavily as we left Beirut. We knew that we had reached Dahr El-Baydar - the pass in the western mountain chain separating the coast from the Beqaa - when our tortured members shivered from cold and the pain in our open wounds. We reached the Anjar penitentiary in the Beqaa valley, which is the central penitentiary upon which are sent detainees from Beirut, the South, the Mountain and the North, before transferring them to Syrian prisons.

Originally, the Anjar prison was a stable for horses that was requisitioned by the Syrians upon invading Lebanon and transformed into a vast prison without alteration other than converting the horseshoeing room into a torture chamber, fitted with the most sophisticated instruments of torture.

The Anjar prison is not very large because it serves only, as I already said, a grouping center for the detainees who were either liberated and returned home, or transferred to the prisons of terror inside Syria. The chief of Syrian military intelligence, General Ghazi Kanaan commands personally the Anjar prison, his assistant is General Adnan Balloul, nicknamed the "Beast".

He is seconded by Lieutenant Sleiman Salameh who commands the Alaouite investigation team who are constantly thirsty for Lebanese blood. In Anjar, they lined us up before a wall and removed the bags from our heads in order to enable General Ghazi Kanaan to examine our faces closely. He did in fact come up to us and looked at each of us individually, asking: "Who is this one?" A Moukhabarat officer, carrying a list gave our name. Kanaan passed us in review for about a quarter of an hour before pronouncing a political speech saying: "Anyone in Lebanon who speaks a word against Syria shall be skinned alive [the words skin alive are the most used by the Syrians against the Lebanese]. We shall transfer you forthwith to Syria where we shall see what you know, and I advise you to tell us everything, thereby saving yourselves suffering. Otherwise, you will never return to your relatives in Lebanon again?"

Kanaan made a long speech of which I don't remember much since it was such a long time ago. I remember that one of the detainees tried to speak, but one of the Moukhabarat henchmen fell upon him hitting him with the haft of his gun. They covered our heads again with bags and put us back in a truck on our way to Syria.

"Whoever enters is lost, and whoever leaves is reborn" is the slogan written at the entrance of the Mazzeh prison, or of the Palestinian investigation branch affiliated to the Syrian Army secret service. This prison is the reception center entered by thousands of Lebanese who were unheard of since. We were nine in number coming from various Lebanese regions.

They brought us down from the truck and removed the bags from our heads and lined us up.In the prison courtyard, the Syrian colonel Munir Abrass, head of investigation in the Palestinian branch, received us. About 20 soldiers carrying batons and whips that stared at us with eyes gleaming with hatred surrounded him, as if we were enemies since a long time or Israeli soldiers.

When the truck and its escorting Moukhabarat car left, the soldiers of Abrass surrounded us and started beating us without preliminaries while cursing us and shouting: "We shall fuck you and crush the biggest head under our shoe?" followed by a long series of curses denoting a latent hatred for everything Lebanese. It was as if they regarded the Lebanese as insects that must be eradicated for the welfare of Syria and its glory?

The round of beating stopped and we huddled together, bleeding from every part of our bodies. It was already night in Damascus and very cold. I will never forget that night all my life. We were praying all the saints and prophets for mercy, but there was only deaf ears. Voracious wolves are more merciful to their game than the Syrian torturers. A few moments later, they turned upon us jets of ice-cold water. I don't know if their intention was to wash us up. At any rate, after years spent in the Mazzeh prison I found out that this was the standard procedure of receiving prisoners, especially if they were an important bunch like us. They put the bags again over our heads and transferred us to solitary cells that are very dark rooms, some 40 meters underground of I believe 80 cm. width by 180 cm. long in which the detainee cannot stand. Its door was of iron with a small window opening from the exterior through which the jailer presented us what they called "food".General Mazhar Fares, the chief of the Palestine section and his henchmen were responsible for questioning me.
They used to transfer me daily from the solitary cell to the investigation room with the black bag over my head. When I reached the middle of the room the bag was removed and I could see Fares sitting on a chair smoking a cigar or drinking a cup of coffee with the henchmen standing all around him. He usually started his investigation with a flow of curses against the Lebanese and accused us of collaborating with Israel, after which the beating would start without other preliminaries. Words cannot fully represent what I suffered in the Syrian jail: They whipped me and flogged me with a scourge that is a terrible instrument of torture.

They pulled out my fingernails and my toenails.

They beat me on my genitals and impaled me with sharp instruments.

They applied electric shocks to my nose, my ears and my throat.

They burned me with cigars and cigarettes.

They sat me on the German chair (sic!).

They hanged me on a wheel.

They hanged me for nine days by a "ghost" winch with the black bag over my head.

They placed salt on my wounds until I shrieked and fainted from pain and was awakened by a jet of water, after which they resumed the beating. I spent the 150 days of investigation in the solitary cell, or "tomb" as the prisoners called it, during which I ate what was given me with my bare hands like an animal as shown in films. I never knew what I ate except that I could distinguish bread crumbs and a few olives.

Often, extenuated from suffering I slept long hours on end and stooled and urinated in what was left of my clothes.
I will never forget the commandant of the Mazzeh prison, Captain Bassam Hassan; weighing about 150 kgs he would pounce like a wolf, thrashing at what was left of me. Prisoners later told me that he used to seek inspiration for new ways of torture from horror films he saw. Many Lebanese detainees died in Mazzeh under the torture inflicted by Captain Bassam Hassan and his henchmen composed of 14 officers, of whom I still remember Salah Zoghbi, Abdul Razzak Halabi, Bassam Mustapha, Housam Succar and Mohamad Mufleh and a host of assistants and soldiers we called "torturers".

Thereupon, they made me sign a document I did not know its contents. They then allowed me to bathe. After which they shaved my hair and gave me clothes similar to a Syrian soldier's uniform. Then one of the torturers told me: "We have given you a new name? This, henceforth, will be your name until you leave here. Take good care not to pronounce your true name before the other prisoners. You must forget it completely. Otherwise, we shall return you to the "tomb". Understand? Giving me a new name would mean, as far as the Syrian authorities are concerned, that I am not present and never entered a Syrian jail. And this is the situation of every Lebanese prisoner in Syrian jails
whose their parents ask about them in vain, since their names are not found on the prison registers. It is necessary to oblige the Syrian authorities to reveal all the true names. They transferred me to a large prison cell containing a number of Lebanese and Jordanian young men, all accused of endangering Syrian security!

We were about 25 prisoners in an underground cell of an area not exceeding 12 meters square. In summer we used to stifle from the heat and humidity, and in winter we froze from the cold. Every now and then, they used to administer to us, as a reminder, a round of beating.Night in the Mazzeh prison was absolutely frightful and worse than in any horror film: calm, then shrieks, even howls of pain from electric shocks or other "civilized" means, specialty of the Syrian Mokhabarat, that cut your breath. Then calm again, followed with worse shrieks and howls! Oh God will this night never end! The Muslim prisoners would whisper Allah akbar, while we, the Christians, would murmur prayers to the Holy Virgin.

Oh God will this night never end! I later learned that my parents tried to contact me in jail after having localized me by bribing a Syrian officer. They came to the prison door but Bassam Hassan, its commandant resolutely denied the presence of any Lebanese in his prison.

But this did not prevent him, along with other Syrian Mokhabarat officers in Lebanon, headed by Ghazi Kanaan, Rustom Ghazaleh and Adnan Balloul from blackmailing the parents of the prisoners. We were about 150 Lebanese detained in the Mazzeh prison, yet they constantly refused to admit the presence of any Lebanese. They even forced us to speak with a Syrian accent in order to erase our trace.

There was no medical assistance in the Syrian jails or trials for most of the detainees. As for the tribunal Lebanese, not all, it was the "Third Field Court of the Syrian troops in Lebanon". This means that the Syrian Army was effectively imposing martial law against the Lebanese despite the claim of the dummy regime in Beirut that they form an authority, a State and a government.

Shame!

As for our food, the daily menu consisted of potatoes, olives, burgul (broken wheat), cauliflower. We used to spend our time in weeping and telling stories of our countries and hearing news from freshly arriving prisoners, while we dressed their wounds with water and rags from the clothes left behind by departing inmates. The Syrian fugitives from military service spending part of their sentences in one of the wings of the Mazzeh prison were charged with our service. We used to call them the "fugitives".

The prisoners who were at the point of death were sent to the Al-Mouassat hospital that was close to the jail. There, the Military Police stood guard over them. Once, one of the young men detained among us, accused of being a partisan of the "Lebanese Forces" was severely tortured by electric shock and returned to solitary confinement, but when signs of death were apparent on him, they returned him to our midst in the large cell. His skin was bluish, his mouth was frothy and blood was oozing from his ears and nose. We told our jailers that he was dying and there was nothing we could do for him. They answered: "Let him die, the devil take him. May you all die!" We tried artificial respiration on him and wiping his face with water. His respiration soon became rapid, he began to gasp then, practically unconscious, he looked at our faces, smiled a sad smile and passed away. We began to shout for help from the jailers. But when we told them that he died, they cursed us, then came in and carried him away to the Al-Mouassat hospital when it was too late.

We later learned that he joined a long list of Lebanese buried in mass graves in the vicinity of the Mazzeh prison guarded by the Syrian Special Forces to prevent anyone from approaching without special permission. Nevertheless, the suffering in the Mazzeh prison is nothing compared with the "Sab' Bahrat" (Seven Seas) prison in Damascus held by the Moukhabarat of the Syrian Air Force, or with the prison of Palmyra where hungry dogs, snakes and rats as well as other hair-raising means worthy of horror films, are used to torment the prisoners. The condemned to death are impaled.

Among the tidings of the Mazzeh prison where I spent five years of my life, there is one regarding the former Lebanese deputy, the late Dr Farid Serhal who was incarcerated when the Syrians abducted him in 1989. In addition to light beatings, they forced him to clean the latrines and sweep the floors in order to humiliate him because he was candidate for the Presidency of the Lebanese Republic. They used to call him "dog".

As for Boutros Khawand, he is incarcerated in ward 601 of the Mazzeh prison. He has become a shadow of himself due to coercion and torture. I will never forget what the jailers did to torture a young soldier of the Lebanese Army accused of military action against the Syrian occupation: He was tied or crucified upon a heavy wooden device in the form of a cross - because he was a Christian as the commander of the prison Bassam Hassan, said - that they tied with ropes and cables then forced him to run in circles, beating him as if he were a horse. Eventually, they raised him with a winch and left him crucified for nine days in the sun. The blood oozed from all his body, including his mouth and ears. And when Bassel Assad died, the torturers pounded us like crazy bulls and left us for a whole week without food because they thought we were pleased with his death!

After spending five years in jail without judgment, as all the Lebanese there, the Syrians decided to liberate me in answer to solicitations in my favor. They brought me in a truck to Anjar where I sat on the floor awaiting the arrival of General Ghazi Kanaan who told me point blank: "I hope you learned your lesson and I warn you that the next time, I will pulverize your flesh and bones. You must learn that you and those who are behind you shall live under our boots for ever and that your destiny is Syria and there is nothing you can do about it!"

Thereupon, they transferred me to the Anjar prison where Adnan Balloul and his henchmen received me with a round of farewell beating before handing me over to their puppet Lebanese Secret Service. Then, as if all the beating I had received in five years were not enough, they fell upon me once more, beating me savagely. I will never forget the sight of the chief of the henchmen in Anjar, Colonel Slayman Salameh whom all those who have passed through that prison regard as the most savage person on earth.

The Lebanese Secret Service received me at ten o'clock PM. Upon my arrival, the investigation chief in the prison of the Ministry of Defense, Imad Kaakour, who wanted to interrogate me, started to beat me. I told him: "Are five years of torture in Syrian jails not enough? What more do you want from me? I have forgotten to speak Lebanese. I have forgotten the names of my parents. What more do you want from me?" My words fell on deaf ears. He was bent on beating me and on establishing an investigation official report to present to his chief, Jamil Sayed.

They forced me to fingerprint a blank paper, then transferred me to the Military Police jail in the Noura Palace, where I spent three days before one of the pro-Syrian politicians intervened, telling them that five years are enough to teach him, what more do you want from him? He has become the shadow of a man! And so was I liberated?

I still have to say that Hussein Taliss, the criminal who escaped from the Roumieh prison, accused of the murder of the French Military Attaché and of the attempt on the life of President Camille Chamoun in addition to the explosion of tens of booby trapped cars in East Beirut during the war, is at present one of the top investigators in the Mazzeh prison, in charge of the investigation with Lebanese prisoners. He is and is active in the Syrian Moukhabarat, Lebanese section, on major security operations in Lebanon. It is said that he is responsible of many crimes. He resides with his family under a false identity in the Abou Remmaneh quarter.




Note from Rememinscor: Kanaan later became the interior minister of Syria and Rustom Ghazalé took his position of head of the Moukhabarat (secret police) in Lebanon. Anjar and Beau Rivage were evacuated in 2005 following the cedar revolution. The journalists who visited them shortly after found torture instruments. They also stole hundres of millions from the Lebanese people.

The Massacre and Destruction of Damour

Quoted from J. Becker "The PLO"

The Massacre and Destruction of Damour

Damour lay across the Sidon - Beirut highway about 20 km south of Beirut on the slopes of a foothill of the Lebanon range. On the other side of the road, beyond a flat stretch of coast, is the sea. It was a town of some 25,000 people, containing five churches, three chapels, seven schools, private and public, and one public hospital where Muslims from near by villages were treated along with the Christians, at the expense of the town.

On 9 January 1976, three days after Epiphany, the priest of Damour Father Mansour Labaky, was carrying out a Maronite custom of blessing the houses with holy water. As he stood in front of a house on the side of the town next to the Muslim village of Harat Na’ami, a bullet whistled past his ear and hit the house. Then he heard the rattle of machine-guns. He went inside the house, and soon learned that the town was surrounded. Later he found out by whom and how many — the forces of Sa’iqa, consisting of 16,000 Palestinians and Syrians, and units of the Mourabitoun and some fifteen other militias, reinforced by mercenaries from Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and a contingent of Libyans.

Father Labaky telephoned the Muslim sheikh of the district and asked him, as a fellow religious leader, what he could do to help the people of the town. ‘I can do nothing,’ he was told ‘They want to harm you. It is the Palestinians. I cannot stop them.'

While the shooting and some shelling went on all day, Father Labaky telephoned a long list of people, politicians of both the Left and the Right, asking for help. They all said with apologies and commiserations that they could do nothing. Then he telephoned Kamal Jumblatt, in whose parliamentary constituency Damour lay. ‘Father,’ Jumblatt said, ‘I can do nothing for you, because it depends on Yasser Arafat.’ He gave Arafat’s phone number to the priest.

An aide answered, and when he would not call Arafat himself, Father Labaky told him, ‘The Palestinians are shelling and shooting at my town. I can assure you as a religious leader, we do not want the war, we do not believe in violence.’ He added that nearly half the people of Damour had voted for Kamal Jumblatt, ‘who is backing you,’ he reminded the PLO man. The reply was, ‘Father, don’t worry. We don’t want to harm you. If we are destroying you it is for strategical reasons.’
Father Labaky did not feel that there was any less cause for worry because the destruction was for strategical reasons, and he persisted in asking for Arafat to call off his fighters. In the end the aide said that they, PLO headquarters, would ‘tell them to stop shooting’.

By then it was eleven o’clock in the evening. As the minutes passed and the shooting still went on, Father Labaky called Jumblatt again on the telephone and told him what Arafat’s aide had said. Jumblatt’s advice was that the priest should keep trying to make contact with Arafat, and call other friends of his, ‘because’, he said, ‘I do not trust him’.

At about half-past eleven the telephone, water and electricity were all cut off. The first invasion of the town came in the hour after midnight, from the side where the priest had been shot at earlier in the day. The Sa’iqa men stormed into the houses. They massacred some fifty people in the one night. Father Labaky heard screaming and went out into the street. Women came running to him in their nightdresses, ‘tearing their hair, and shouting “They are slaughtering us!” The survivors, deserting that end of the town, moved into the area round the next church. The invaders then occupied the part of the town they had taken. Father Labaky describes the scene:

'In the morning I managed to get to the one house despite the shelling to bring out some of the corpses. And I remember something which still frightens me. An entire family had been killed, the Can’an family, four children all dead, and the mother, the father, and the grandfather. The mother was still hugging one of the children. And she was pregnant. The eyes of the children were gone and their limbs were cut off. No legs and no arms. It was awful. We took them away in a banana truck. And who carried the corpses with me? The only survivor, the brother ofthe man. His name is Samir Can’an. He carried with me the remains of his brother, his father, his sister-in-law and the poor children. We buried them in the cemetery, under the shells of the PLO. And while I was burying them, more corpses were found in the street.'
The town tried to defend itself. Two hundred and twenty-five young men, most of them about sixteen years old, armed with hunting guns and none with military training, held out for twelve days. The citizens huddled in basements, with sandbags piled in front of their doors and ground-floor windows. Father Labaky moved from shelter to shelter to visit the families and take them bread and milk. He went often ‘to encourage the young men defending the town’. The relentless pounding the town received resulted in massive damage. In the siege that had been established on 9 January the Palestinians cut off food and water supplies and refused to allow the Red Cross to take out the wounded. Infants and children died of dehydration. Only three more townspeople were killed as a result of PLO fire between the first night and the last day, 23 January. But on that day, when the final onslaught came, hundreds of the Christians were killed. Father Labaky goes on:
'The attack took place from the mountain behind. It was an apocalypse. They were coming, thousands and thousands, shouting ‘Allahu Akbar! God is great! Let us attack them for the Arabs, let us offer a holocaust to Mohammad ‘And they were slaughtering everyone in their path, men, women and children.'
Whole families were killed in their homes. Many women were gang-raped, and few of them left alive afterwards. One woman saved her adolescent daughter from rape by smearing her face with washing blue to make her look repulsive. As the atrocities were perpetrated, the invaders themselves took photographs and later offered the pictures for sale to European newspapers. Survivors testify to what happened. A young girl of sixteen, Soumavya Ghanimeh, witnessed the shooting of her father and brother by two of the invaders, and watched her own home and the other houses in her street being looted and burned. She explained:
'As they were bringing me through the street the houses were burning all about me. They had about ten trucks standing in front of the houses and were piling things into them. I remember how frightened I was of the fire. I was screaming. And for months afterwards I couldn’t bear anyone to strike a match near me. I couldn’t bear the smell of it'.
She and her mother Mariam, and a younger Sister and infant brother, had been saved from being shot in their house when she ran behind one Palestinian for protection from the pointing gun of the other, and cried out ‘Don’t let him kill us!’; and the man accepted the role of protector which the girl had suddenly assigned to him. ‘If you kill them you will have to kill me too,’ he told his comrade. So the four of them were spared, herded along the streets between the burning houses to be put into a truck, and trans-ported to Sabra camp in Beirut. There they were kept in a crowded prison hut. ‘We had to sleep on the ground, and it was bitterly cold.’
When eventually Father Labaky found the charred bodies of the father and brother in the Ghanimeh house ‘you could no longer tell whether they were men or women’.
In a frenzy to destroy their enemies utterly, as if even the absolute limits ofnature could not stop them, the invaders broke open tombs and flung the bones of the dead into the streets.Those who escaped from the first attack tried to flee by any means they could, with cars, carts, cycles and motorbikes. Some went on foot to the seashore to try to get away in boats. But the sea was rough and the wait for rescue was long, while they knew their enemies might fall upon them at any moment.

Some 500 gathered in the Church of St Elias. Father Labaky went there at six in the morning when the tumult of the attack awakened him. He preached a sermon on the meaning of the slaughter of innocents. And he told them candidly that he did not know what to tell them to do. ‘If I say flee to the sea, you may be killed. If I say stay here, you may be killed.’

An old man suggested that they raise a white flag. ‘Perhaps if we surrender they may spare us.' Father Labaky gave him his surplice. He put it on the processional cross and stood it in front of the church. Ten minutes later there was a knock on the door, three quick raps, then three lots of three. They were petrified. Father Labaky said that he would go and see who was there. If it was the enemy, they might spare them. ‘But if they kill us, at least we shall die all together and we’ll have a nice parish in Heaven, 500 persons, and no check points!’ They laughed, and the priest went to the door.

It was not the enemy but two men of Damour who had fled the town and had seen the white flag from the seashore. They had come back to warn them that it would not help to raise a flag. ‘We raised a flag in front of Our Lady, and they shot at us.’

Again they discussed what could be done. The priest told them that one thing they must do, although it was ‘impossible’, was to pray for the forgiveness of those who were coming to kill them. As they prayed, two of the young defenders of the town who had also seen the flag walked in and said, ‘Run to the seashore now, and we will cover you.

The two youths stood in front of the church and shot in the direction from which the fedayeen were firing. It took ten minutes for all the people in the church to leave the town. All 500 got away except one old man who said he could not walk and would prefer to die in front of his own house. He was not killed. Father Labaky found him weeks later in a PLO prison, and heard what had happened after they left.

A few minutes after they had gone, ‘the PLO came and bombed the church without entering it. They kicked open the door and threw in the grenades.’ They would all have been killed had they stayed.

The priest led his flock along the shore to the palace of Camille Chamoun. But when they got there they found it had already been sacked and partly burnt. They found shelter, however, in the palace of a Muslim, who ‘did not agree with the Palestinians’, and then got into small boats Which took them out to a bigger boat, in which they sailed to Jounieh. ‘One poor woman had to give birth to her baby in the little open boat on the rough winter sea.’

In all, 582 people were killed in the storming of Damour. Father Labaky went back with the Red Cross to bury them. Many of the bodies had been dismembered, so they had to count the heads to number the dead. Three of the men they found had had their genitals cut off and stuffed into their mouths.

The horror did not end there, the old Christian cemetery was also destroyed, coffins were dug up, the dead robbed, vaults opened, and bodies and skeletons thrown across the grave yard. Damour was then transformed into a stronghold of Fatah and the PFLP (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine). The ruined town became one of the main PLO centres for the promotion of international terrorism. The Church of St Elias was used as a repair garage for PLO vehicles and also as a range for shooting-practice with targets painted on the eastern wall of the nave.

The commander of the combined forces which descended on Damour on 23 January 1976 was Zuhayr Muhsin, chief of al-Sa’iqa, known since then throughout Christian Lebanon as 'the Butcher of Damour'. He was assassinated on 15 July 1979 at Cannes in the South of France.

Le Massacre de Damour

Becker, J. (1985). The PLO: The Rise and Fall of the Palestine Liberation Organization . New York: St. Martin's Press ISBN 0312593791

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Damour_massacre

Damour était un village du Sud Liban, placé sur la route menant de Sidon à Beyrout. De l’autre côté de la route, la mer. C’est, aujourd’hui, un nom oublié des consciences occidentales. Le ministère du tourisme du sud Liban cherche vainement à chanter la gloire de son paysage. Personne ne visite Oradour-sur-Glane pour son paysage. Damour non plus. Mais vous aurez du mal à trouver des images de ces événements : la plupart des photographies d’époque ont été prises par les « combattants » palestiniens eux-mêmes qui étaient fiers de leurs actes et qui les ont rapportés comme des actes de bravoure auprès de leur commandement à Beyrout... Scandale notable aussi des usages et abus des médias, puisque les photographies publiées ont été prises par les bourreaux eux-mêmes, qui se sont ensuite enrichis en les vendant à la presse occidentale. Qui donc a pu témoigner sur ce massacre ? Le Père Labaky, l’un des rares survivants, enfui dans un petit bateau, dont nous vous présentons le témoignage

Damour était un village, ou plutôt un gros bourg de 25OOO habitants, disposant cinq églises, trois chapelles, sept écoles, publiques et privées, et un hôpital publique où les musulmans des villages voisins étaient soignés côte à côte avec des Chrétiens sur les fonds publiques mêmes de la petite ville.

Le 9 janvier 1976, trois jours après l’Epiphanie, le prêtre de Damour, le Père Mansour Labaky procédait à une coûtume maronite consistant à bénir les maisons avec de l’eau bénite. Alors qu’il se tenait debout devant une maison bordant la petite ville du côté du village arabe de Harat Na’ami, une balle siffla à son oreille et entra dans le mur. Une rafale de mitraillette la suivit. Le prêtre entra dans la maison et réalisa que la ville était encerclée. Il apprit rapidement que les forces qui menaçaient Damour étaient celles de Sa’iqa, comprenant 16,000 Palestiniens et Syriens, ainsi que des unités des Mourabitoun et de quelques quinze autres milices, auxquels prêtaient main forte des mercenaires d’Iran, d’Afghanistan, du Pakistan, et un contingent de Libyens.



Le Père Labaky téléphona au sheikh musulman de sa région et lui demanda, en tant que dirigeant religieux, d’aider la population de Damour : »Je ne peux rien faire », répondit le sheikh, « Ils veulent vous détruire. Ce sont les Palestiniens. je ne peux pas les arrêter. »

Alors que les tirs continuaient, pendant toute la journée, le Père Labaky appella une longue liste de personnes en leur demandant d’intervenir. Il ne reçut que des mots de sympathie et de commisération, accompagnés d’excuses selon lesquelles «ils ne pouvaient rien faire ». Puis il téléphona à Kamal Jumblatt, qui dirigeait la représentation parlementaire dont dépendait la région de Damour. « Mon Père », lui dit Jumblatt, « je ne peux rien faire pour vous , parce que tout cela dépend de Yasser Arafat. » Il donna au prêtre le numéro de téléphone de Yasser Arafat.



Un aide de camp de Yasser Arafat répondit, et comme il refusait d’appeller Arafat en personne, le père lui dit alors : « Les Palestiniens sont en train de bombarder et de tirer sur ma ville. Je peux vous affirmer, en tant que leader religieux, que nous ne voulons pas la guerre, et que nous ne croyons pas en la violence. »

Il ajouta que près de la moitié des gens de Damour avaient voté pour Kamal Jumblatt, « qui vous soutient », rappella-t-il à l’homme de l’OLP. La réponse qui lui fut donnée fut la suivante : « Mon Père, ne vous inquiétez pas. Nous ne voulons pas vous faire de mal. Si nous vous détruisons, c’est pour des raisons stratégiques.» Le Père Labaky ne fut pas rassuré d’apprendre que la destruction avait lieu pour des raisons stratégiques, et il insista pour parler à Arafat, et pour que celui-ci rappelle ses troupes. L’aide de camp finit par lui dire que les quartiers généraux de l’OLP allaient donner l’ordre de cesser le feu.

Mais il était déjà onze heures du matin. Les minutes et les heures passaient, et les tirs ne cessaient pas. Le Père Labaky appella de nouveau Jumblatt et lui dit ce que l’aide de camp d’Arafat lui avait répondu. Le conseil de Jumblatt fut de persister à essayer de parler directement à Arafat, et de tenter de contacter d’autres de ses amis personnels, parce que « quant à lui [Arafat] » il « ne lui faisait pas confiance ». A vingt trois heures trente, l’eau, l’électricité et le téléphone étaient coupés. L’invasion de la ville commença à une heure du matin, par le côté du village où le Père Labaky avait reçu les premières balles, le matin même. Les hommes de Sa’iqa se précipitèrent dans les maisons. Ils massacrèrent près de cinquante personnes en une nuit. Le Père Labaky entendit les hurlements et sortit dans la rue. Des femmes couraient vers lui en chemise de nuit en criant « Ils nous massacrent ». Les survivants, quittant cette partie de la ville, se réfugièrent dans la zone près de l’église. Les attaquants occupèrent alors la partie de la ville qu’ils avaient prise.

Le Père Labaky décrit la scène : « Je parvins à entrer dans une des maisons pour aller y chercher les corps au petit matin, malgré les bombardements. Et je me rappelle une chose qui me terrifie encore aujourd’hui. Toute une famille avait été tuée. C’était la famille Can’an, quatre enfants étaient morts, ainsi que la mère, le père, et le grand-père. La mère tenait encore un des enfants dans ses bras. Elle était enceinte. les yeux des enfants avaient été arrachés des orbites, et leurs membres coupés. Ni bras, ni jambes. C’était affreux. Nous les avons emmenés dans un camion. Le seul survivant, le frère du père de famille, Samir Ca’nan, m’aida à rassembler les restes de son frère, sa femme, et de leurs enfants, ainsi que du grand-père. Nous les avons enterrés dans le cimetière sous les coups de mortiers de l’OLP. Et alors que je procédais à cet enterrement, nous trouvions de plus en plus de corps dans les rues... »



La ville tenta de se défendre. Deux cent vingt cinq hommes jeunes, la plupart âgés environ de seize ans, armés de fusils de chasse, et tous dénués de formation militaire, tinrent la ville pendant douze jours. Les villageois se blotissaient dans des caves, avec des sacs de sable empilés devant leurs portes et les fenêtres du rez-de-chaussée. Le Père Labaky passa d’abri en abri pour visiter les familles et leur porter du pain et du lait. Il passa aussi souvent « encourager les jeunes gens qui défendaient la ville. ».

Le pilonnage incessant de la ville fit d’énormes dégats. Pendant le siège qu’ils établirent le 9 janvier, les Palestiniens coupèrent immédiatement les approvisionnements de la ville en eau et en nourriture, et refusèrent de laisser la Croix Rouge évacuer les blessés. Les bébés et les enfants moururent de déshydratation. Le 23 janvier, lorsque le dernier massacre eut lieu, des centaines de Chrétiens furent tués. Le Père Labaky continue :



'L’attaque eut lieu depuis la montagne qui était derrière. Ce fut une apocalypse. Ils arrivaient, des milliers et des milliers, criant « Allahou Akbar ! Attaquons les pour les Arabes, offrons un holocoste à Mahomet » Et ils massacraient toutes les personnes qu’ils trouvaient sur leur passage, hommes, femmes, et enfants. »

Des familles entières furent tuées dans leur demeure. De nombreuses femmes furent violées par des groupes d’hommes, puis tuées ensuite pour la plupart. Une femme sauva sa fille adolescente du viol en lui passant du bleu de lessive sur le visage pour la rendre repoussante. Pendant les atrocités, les assaillants eux-mêmes prirent des photos. qu’ils vendirent ensuite à des journaux européens. Les survivants du massacre témoignèrent. Une jeune fille de seize ans, Soumavya Ghanimeh, assista à l’éxécution de son père et de son frère par deux attaquants, ainsi qu’au pillage de sa maison qui fut ensuite brûlée. Elle témoigne :

“Alors qu’ils m’emmenaient par les rues, je voyais les maisons brûler autour de moi. Ils avaient des camions devant les maisons et y empilaient des affaires. Je ne me rappelle combien j’étais effrayée par le feu. Je hurlais. Et même des mois après les événements je ne pouvais pas supporter que quelqu’un enflamme une allumette près de moi. Je ne suppportais plus l’odeur de brûlé. »

Elle et sa mère Mariam, ainsi qu’une jeune soeur et un petit frère, furent sauvés de la tuerie dans leur propre maison, parce qu’elle se précipita dérrière un Palestinien pour se protéger de l’arme d’un autre qui la visait déjà, en criant « Ne les laisse pas nous tuer ». L’homme accepta le rôle de protecteur que la jeune fille lui faisait endosser soudainement. Il répondit à son comparse « Si vous les tuez, il faudra aussi me tuer ». C’est ainsi que la jeune fille, sa mère, sa soeur et son frère furent épargnés, entraînés dans les rues entre les maisons en feu, placés dans un camion pour être emmenés au camp de Sabra à Beyrout[4]. Là ils furent gardés dans une prison surpeuplée « Nous devions dormir à même le sol, et il faisait un froid très vif. » Lorsque le père Labaky trouva les corps calcinés du père et du frère de la famille Ghanimeh, il dut se rendre à l’évidence, « on ne pouvait plus savoir s’il s’agissait d’hommes ou de femmes ».

Dans la frénésie de destruction totale qui les avait saisis, comme si les limites de la Nature ne devaient pas les arrêter, les Palestiniens ouvrirent les tombes, en exhumèrent les ossements des morts qu’ils répandirent dans la rue. Les chrétiens qui échappèrent à la première vague de l’attaque tentèrent de s’échapper avec tous les moyens possibles : des voitures, des charrettes, des vélos, et des motos. Certains s’enfuirent à pied vers la plage pour tenter de s’échapper en bateau. Mais la mer était forte, et l’attente pour des secours fut longue, dans l’angoisse que leurs agresseurs pouvaient fondre sur eux à tout instant.

Quelques 500 personnes se réfugièrent dans l’église de St Elias. Le père Labaky s’y précipita à six heures du matin, lorsqu’il perçut le tumulte de l’attaque. Il dit candidement aux fidèles rassemblés qu’il se sentait impuissant à leur conseiller que faire. « Si je vous dis de fuir par la mer, vous vous ferez peut-être tuer. Si je vous dis de rester ici, vous serez peut-être tués ici. »

Un vieil homme suggéra de brandir un drapeau blanc. « Peut-être nous épargneront-ils si nous nous rendons » dit-il. Labaky lui remit son surplis. Il le mit sur une croix de procession et le plaça devant l’église. Dix minutes plus tard, quelqu’un frappa à la porte, trois petits coups, puis trois séries de trois. Les réfugiés étaient pétrifiés. Le père Labaky dit qu’il allait voir qui c’était. Si c’était l’ennemi, peut-être les épargnerait-il. « Mais s’ils nous tuent, au moins nous mourrons ensemble, et nous aurons une belle paroisse au paradis, 500 personnes, et pas de point de contrôle ! » Les assiégés rirent, et le prêtre alla ouvrir la porte. Ce n’était pas l’ennemi, mais deux hommes de Damour qui avaient fui la ville et qui avaient vu le drapeau blanc depuis la plage. Ils étaient revenus pour prévenir les assiégés que cela ne leur servirait à rien. « Nous avons levé un drapeau blanc devant Notre Dame, et ils nous ont mitraillés. »

A nouveau, ils discutèrent de ce qui pouvait être entrepris. Le prêtre leur dit qu’ils devraient faire une chose, bien qu’elle leur soit « impossible », prier pour le pardon de ceux qui venaient les tuer. Alors qu’ils étaient en prière, l’un des jeunes défenseurs de la ville qui avait vu le drapeau entra et dit : « courez maintenant jusqu’à la plage, on vous couvre. »

Les deux jeunes hommes se tinrent devant l’église et tirèrent dans la direction d’où venaient des fedayins. Il fallut dix minutes aux personnes réfugiées dans l’église pour quitter la ville. Les 500 personnes s’enfuirent, sauf un vieil homme qui dit qu’il ne pouvait pas marcher, et qu’il préfèrait mourir devant sa propre maison. Il échappa à la mort. Le père Labaky le trouva des semaines plus tard dans des prisons de l’OLP et entendit ce qui s’était passé après que les survivants soient partis.


Quelques minutes après qu’ils soient partis, « l’OLP vint et bombarda l’église sans même y entrer. Ils enfonçèrent la porte et jetèrent des grenades à l’intérieur. » Tous aurait été tués s’ils y été restés.



Le prêtre mena ses ouailles le long de la plage jusqu’au palais de Camille Chamoun. Mais lorsqu’ils l’attinrent, ils se rendirent compte que la palais avait déjà été pillé et brûlé en partie.

Ils trouvèrent cependant refuge dans le palais d’un musulman qui « n’était pas d’accord avec les Palestiniens », puis ils s’enfuirent dans de petites embarcations, pour rejoindre ensuite un plus grand navire, qui les mena à Jounieh. « Une pauvre femme dut donner le jour à un bébé sur la mer déchaînée d’hiver, à bord de cette petite embarcation. »



582 personnes moururent dans le massacre de Damour. Le père Labaky revint avec la Croix Rouge pour les enterrer. Beaucoup des corps avaient été démembrés, de sorte qu’ils durent compter les têtes pour dénombrer les morts. Trois des hommes qu’ils trouvèrent avaient eu leur parties génitales coupées et enfoncées dans leur bouche. L’horreur ne s’arrêtait pas là. Le vieux cimetière chrétien avait été détruit, les cercueils déterrés, les corps dérobés, les cryptes ouvertes, les corps et les squelettes avaient été jetés dans la cour du cimetière. Damour avait été ensuite transformé en forteresse du Fatah et du FPLP (Front de Libération de la Palestine). la ville en ruines devint l’un des centres principaux de l’OLP pour la promotion du terrorisme international. L’église d’Elias servit de garage de réparations pour les véhicules de l’OLP, ainsi que de champ d’exercice de tirs dont les cibles étaient peintes sur le mur oriental de la nef. Le commandant des forces combinées qui attaqua Damour le 23 janvier 1976 était Zuhayr Muhsin, chef de al-Sa’iqa, connu depuis lors dans tout le Liban chrétien sous le nom de « Boucher de Damour ». Il fut assassiné le 15 juillet 1979 à Cannes, en France.

More Unsolved Mysteries in Lebanon

More Unsolved Mysteries in Lebanon - Middle East Intelligence Bulletin - Vol.5 No.1 - January 2003
Gary C. Gambill



The director-general of Lebanon's General Security Directorate, Brig. Gen. Jamil al-Sayyid, does not appear to have lost any sleep lately. If Lebanon were any other country in the world, one might conclude that the man in charge of the country's principal domestic security agency had a bad year in 2002. Leaving aside the ostensibly natural deaths (such as the sudden heart failure in January of a Christian MP rumored to have dallied with the anti-Syrian opposition), the list of major "unsolved" murders that took place during the first eleven months of last year would have cost even J. Edgar Hoover his job. On January 24, ex-militia chief and former minister Elie Hobeika was killed by a car bomb. On April 20, the grossly disfigured body of Ramzi Irani, the student coordinator of the opposition Lebanese Forces (LF) party, was found in the trunk of his car. On November 21, an American missionary in the southern port of Sidon, Bonnie Penner, was murdered - the first time a US citizen had died from foul play in Lebanon in over ten years. In addition, the culprits who bombed all but one of the major American fast food chains in Lebanon (and evidently have a soft spot for Burger King) have yet to be identified.

The spate of violence kicked into high gear during the first week of December with the killing of an Iraqi dissident, the assassination of a shadowy Lebanese intelligence operative and drug dealer (along with his nephew), and the bombing of a mausoleum near Syrian intelligence headquarters in Anjar. While it is not possible to identify the culprits with any degree of certainty, the circumstances of these three incidents reveal a great deal about why none of them has been deemed worthy of an exhaustive investigation.

Death of a Double Agent

On December 6, a 5-kilogram bomb exploded along the main road between Ibl al-Saqi and Kawkab in south Lebanon and ripped apart a black Mercedes-Benz carrying Ramzi Nohra, a notorious 44-year-old drug smuggler, and his 30 -year-old nephew, Elie Issa, an operative for Lebanese military intelligence.

Nohra was born in Ibl al-Saqi in 1958 and joined the pro-Iraq wing of the Baath Party as a youth. During the late 1970s, he became an operative for Iraqi intelligence and established himself in the Lebanese drug trade. At some point (it's not entirely clear when), Nohra was arrested by Syrian intelligence and began working for Damascus as a double agent. After Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon, he was recruited by both Israeli military intelligence and Israel's Shin Bet security service to provide information about armed Palestinian groups in the country and the radical Shi'ite Hezbollah movement. In exchange, Israeli forces in south Lebanon turned a blind eye to his drug smuggling. Although he was arrested for smuggling hashish into Israel in 1989, he was allowed to serve his three-year jail term at a police station in Tiberias, where he was often seen out and about on the town, having lunch with Israeli friends in the security forces. After serving only two years of his sentence, he was released and returned to Lebanon to resume drug smuggling.

In 1996, Nohra was recruited by Lebanese military intelligence to abduct Ahmed Hallaq, a Lebanese assassin responsible for the December 1994 killing of Fouad Mughniyah, the brother of Hezbollah's head of special overseas operations, Imad Mughniyah. Hallaq had since been living under the protection of the South Lebanon Army (SLA) in Qlaya, using the assumed name Michel Kheir Amin. After establishing Hallaq's true identity, Nohra befriended him and the two spent months socializing regularly. Meanwhile, he was developing a plan to kidnap him with the help of his brother, Mufid, and a Lebanese taxi driver by the name of Fadi, who regularly passed through the Jezzine-Bater crossing at the northern tip of the security zone.

On February 20, 1996, Nohra invited Hallaq to his house in Ibl al-Saqi for a drink. After the two had settled down and finished off several glasses of whiskey, Mufid and Fadi burst into the room with silencer-equipped guns and handcuffed the startled guest. Nohra later recounted that Hallaq begged to be shot on the spot, rather than face the horrors that awaited him in under interrogation, but he was given no such mercy. With Hallaq bound and gagged in the trunk of his taxi, Fadi drove out of the security zone and delivered the captive to a Lebanese army base.[1] Seven months later, Hallaq was executed. Following Hallaq's disappearance, Israeli forces arrested Nohra and he was sentenced to four years in prison by a Tel Aviv court. In July 1998, when Israeli exchanged 50 Lebanese detainees for the remains of an IDF commando killed in Lebanon, Nohra was released and deported north of the security zone.

Following the Israeli withdrawal from south Lebanon in May 2000, Nohra returned to Ibl al-Saqi and resumed drug smuggling with two of his brothers - Mufid and Kamil. Living in an area under the de facto authority of Hezbollah, the two were allowed to keep their ill-gotten gains in return for helping the militant Shi'ite movement build a spy network inside Israel.

There have been persistent rumors that Nohra was involved in the Hezbollah's abduction of three Israeli soldiers in October 2000. According to one version of events, the three Israelis were lured to the border by the promise of a drug deal and were talking with Mufid on the other side when they were ambushed. As a result of his service to Hezbollah, Nohra spent the last two years of his life in a state of intense paranoia. Bulletproof shutters and state-of-the-art security cameras were installed in his luxurious mansion. He reportedly spent most of his time indoors, a 9 mm pistol within easy reach.

In light of Nohra's connections with Hezbollah, most observers speculate that Israel was responsible for his assassination. Coincidentally or not, Nohra was killed just meters away from the site of a February 1999 roadside bomb attack that killed the senior Israeli commander in south Lebanon, Brig. Gen. Erez Gerstein. At his funeral on December 7, Hezbollah officially declared Nohra to be a "martyr" - the first time it has bestowed this "honor" on a Christian.[2]

However, less than a month before his death, an Israeli court named Kamil Nohra has having recruited an Israeli Druze lieutenant colonel charged with passing intelligence information to Hezbollah. With Nohra's cover entirely blown, he was of little use to either Hezbollah or the Syrian-Lebanese intelligence establishment. Given his propensity for switching sides at the drop of a hat, either of his two latest employers may have decided to cut short his life while they were still ahead. Moreover, the bomb which killed Nohra - an explosive device with a fiberglass veneer designed to make it look like a rock - closely resembled the kinds used by Hezbollah in the past.

Bombing in the Beqaa

In the pre-dawn hours of December 4, just before the holiday of Id al-Fitr, a Muslim mausoleum on the outskirts of Anjar in the eastern Beqaa Valley was destroyed by the nearly simultaneous detonation of four 1-kg dynamite charges. The tomb of Nabi al-Aziz had been a popular site of pilgrimage by local Sunni Muslims since its construction, about 800 years ago according to area residents.

Anjar is a predominantly Armenian Christian town, and its residents have been embroiled in a decades-long dispute with the Sunni waqf (religious endowment) that runs the mausoleum and adjacent buildings. The Armenians, who fled Turkey in the early 20th century, settled in the region at the invitation of the French mandatory authorities. The Sunnis do not consider decisions by the French to be legally binding and have claimed that land given to the Armenians belongs to Sunni villagers to determine land ownership.

However, it appears unlikely that an Armenian group carried out the bombing. The dispute had not spilled over into violence in many years and Armenian leaders emphatically denounced the destruction of the mausoleum. The consensus among both Armenian and Sunni leaders was that the bombing was meant to instigate sectarian conflict in the Beqaa. "This criminal act is part of a scheme to plunge Lebanon anew into the long-forgotten nightmare of sectarian strife," said Sunni Grand Mufti Muhammad Rashid Qabbani. Armenian MP George Kassardji called the bombing an "attack on national unity, coexistence and the ties of brotherhood among Lebanese." But who would have the motivation to inflame confessional disputes in Anjar ?

As with all other incidents of violence in the country, some pointed fingers at Israel in public speeches. Sheikh Bilal Said Shaaban, secretary-general of the Sunni fundamentalist Tawhid movement, called the bombing "a gutless act committed by Israeli agents." While it is plausible that Israel could stand to benefit from sectarian tensions in the Beqaa, civil unrest in Lebanon has nearly always generated insecurity for the Jewish state in the past. Moreover, there is no precedent in Israeli history for the destruction of a Muslim holy site and it seems inconceivable that Israel would risk being fingered for such an act.

Since Anjar is the headquarters of Syrian military intelligence in Lebanon, carrying out such an operation would be extremely difficult and risky unless local Syrian intelligence officers were either bought off or were involved themselves. The Syrians have always justified their military presence as an external check against the outbreak of sectarian hostilities in Lebanon. The destruction of a Muslim holy site would not be the first time that the Syrians have deliberately facilitated (or faked) outbreaks of sectarian unrest in order to shore up the validity of their army's raison d'etre.

A more likely explanation is that the bombing was the work of Wahhabi Islamist radicals, who have long condemned pilgrimages to tombs as an unIslamic form of saint worship. Saudi-funded Wahhabi groups typically target "shrines" such as the Nabi al-Aziz mausoleum wherever they operate.

If the Syrians were involved, Lebanon's security apparatus (which is staffed with officers hand-picked by Syria) will not be allowed to conduct an impartial investigation. In fact, it's likely evidence suggesting Wahabbi involvement will also be suppressed due to Saudi Arabia's generous financial assistance to Lebanon at the Paris II conference in November. The authorities recently pulled the plug on a Lebanese television station preparing to broadcast a program critical of the kingdom's human rights record - they will not hesitate to do the same to an investigation which threatens to expose the seamier side of Saudi "charitable" assistance to Lebanon.

Iraqi Eradicated

On the night of December 3, the bludgeoned body of Iraqi Shi'ite dissident Walid Ibrahim Abbas al-Mubah al-Mayahi was found in his apartment in the village of Abbassiyeh, near Tyre, with a rope around his neck. Mayahi's apartment, which he shared with other Iraqi dissidents, doubled as an office for the Sadr Center for Islamic Studies, named after the late Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sader al-Sadr following his 1999 murder in Iraq.

Mayahi was a member of the Iraqi National Congress (INC) and it was rumored that he was preparing to travel to the US to train with Iraqi opposition forces at the time of his murder. The INC pointed the finger at Iraqi intelligence. According to local press reports, Mayahi had recently taken in three Iraqi refugees, all of whom have since disappeared, leading to speculation that they were agents of the Iraqi government.

The last time the Iraqi government killed a dissident in Lebanon, in 1994, the Lebanese government severed diplomatic relations. Now that Syria's relations with Iraq have improved, however, it is unlikely that Baghdad will even be accused of involvement in the murder.



Notes
1 The Daily Star (Beirut), 9 December 2002.
2 Al-Nahar (Beirut), 8 December 2002.

‘Double agent’ played deadly game

December 9, 2002
The Daily Star

‘Double agent’ played deadly game
Assassination victim took murky role in occupation of South Lebanon
Nicholas Blanford


Ramzi Nohra was a marked man and he knew it. The windows set in the thick stone walls of his sprawling mansion in Ibl al-Saqi were fitted with bullet-proof steel shutters. Nohra would sit in his favorite armchair on the ground floor, his eyes darting between the wide-screen television, invariably tuned to Hizbullah’s Al-Manar television, and the three smaller TV monitors on a shelf above. Each screen was split into four separate wide-angle views of the outside of his mansion and the approaches along the road. Tucked into the cushion of his chair within easy reach was a 9mm pistol.
Nohra had made powerful enemies during his career as one of the most notorious drug smugglers and successful double agents in the history of Israel’s occupation of the South.
He and his brother, Mufid, were an unlikely team. Where Ramzi was sharp, devious and cautious, Mufid would openly boast of his membership with Hizbullah, an unlikely association for this tough Maronite.
For almost 20 years, Ramzi Nohra, blessed with acute survival instincts, managed to play a deadly game of cat and mouse in south Lebanon’s merciless conflict, tip-toeing a precarious line between Hizbullah and the intelligence services of Lebanon, Syria and Israel. And all the time amassing a fortune through drug smuggling.
But on Friday, Nohra’s luck finally ran out. A 5-kilogram bomb planted on the side of the main road between Ibl al-Saqi and Kawkab exploded as his Mercedes passed by. Nohra, 44, was killed instantly along with his 30-year-old nephew Elie Issa.
For Mufid, there was little doubt who was to blame for the assassination: “I accuse Israel because we are against Israel, and (we were) among the people who worked with the resistance during the occupation until the liberation,” he said. “Of course this is revenge.”
The Israelis have characteristically remained silent on Nohra’s demise. But they had good reason to want him dead. After all, Nohra captured and turned over to the Lebanese authorities the Israeli-trained assassin of Fouad Mughnieh, whose brother Imad was a Hizbullah security chief and is considered by the United States as second only to Osama bin Laden in the “terrorism” business. Nohra also had been implicated in the kidnapping of three Israeli soldiers from the Shebaa Farms in October 2000, a charge he always denied ­ albeit with a twinkle in his eye.
Following the Israeli troop withdrawal in May 2000, Nohra’s Israeli drug smuggling connections allegedly were exploited by Hizbullah to establish an impressive intelligence gathering network. His other brother, Kamil, was named in an Israeli court last month as the link between Hizbullah and a lieutenant colonel in the Israeli Army who was arrested and charged with heading a spy ring. The Israeli officer supplied Kamil Nohra with information in exchange for drugs. Kamil passed the intelligence on to Hizbullah.
Ramzi Nohra’s story was one of espionage, drugs, money, assassinations, treachery, corruption and violent death.
Born in Ibl al-Saqi in 1958, the young Nohra joined the Iraqi wing of the Baath Party. He fought briefly with the Iraqi Army against Iran in the early stages of their 1980-88 war. But his main role was to supply the Iraqi regime with political and economic information from Lebanon.
After he was arrested by Syrian intelligence, Nohra switched sides and began working as a double agent for the Syrians.
Following the Israeli invasion in 1982, Israeli military intelligence and Israel’s internal security service, Shin Bet, began establishing networks of agents in Lebanon to gather information on Palestinian groups and later Hizbullah. But the Israelis were also concerned at the criminal threat posed by Lebanon, especially the drug trade. Nohra, who had already established himself as a drug smuggler, was recruited by the Israeli police as an informer. He had little compunction about informing on his colleagues. One of his victims was an Israeli officer in charge of the Metulla border crossing. In exchange for the information, the Israeli police turned a blind eye to his own smuggling activities.
But Nohra grew overconfident. In 1989, he sent a truck with three tons of hashish across the border into Israel. The truck reached Haifa but was stopped on a minor traffic violation. The police opened the back of the truck having been alerted by the overpowering odor.
The unflappable Nohra, who was monitoring the truck driver’s arrest from a nearby parking lot, called his police contacts to have the vehicle and hashish returned to him. But Nohra had gone too far. He was sentenced to three years in prison. However, he escaped serving his term in jail and was instead detained at the Tiberias police station. He was allowed to wander around the town and was often seen enjoying meals with his friends in the police.
After two years, Nohra was released and he returned to Lebanon to continue his drug smuggling activities.
By 1996, it became evident that Israel’s occupation of South Lebanon was drawing to an end. Nohra was aware that his relationship with the Israelis was a potential death sentence against him. So when Lebanese military intelligence contacted him and requested his help for an operation, Nohra cooperated.
He was instructed to establish contact with Ahmed Hallaq, a Lebanese-born Israeli-backed assassin, and then abduct him from the occupation zone and deliver him to the authorities in Beirut.
During the early stages of the civil war, Hallaq fought for Saiqa, the Syrian-backed Palestinian group. He earned a reputation for brutality, killing captured Christian militiamen by stuffing them in barrels of gasoline and setting them alight.
When the war ended, Hallaq found himself without work. Bored, frustrated and unable to cope with the deadening pace of peace and needing to provide for his wife and two children, he was recruited by Israel’s Mossad intelligence service.
In June 1994, Hallaq was instructed to recruit Fouad Mughnieh, but he was unsuccessful and in December 1994 he was told to assassinate Mughnieh instead. On Dec. 23, Hallaq detonated a car bomb beside Mughnieh’s shop, killing Mughnieh and two passersby.
With his cover blown, Hallaq was of no use to Israeli intelligence. After a brief spell in the Philippines, a bored Hallaq returned to Israel begging for his old job back. After training at the South Lebanon Army militia base in Majidieh, Hallaq moved to Qlaya in the South under a new identity, Michel Kheir Amin ­ a fatal mistake.
Nohra soon learned that the new arrival in Qlaya was none other than Hallaq. He informed Lebanese military intelligence and at their request began concocting a plan to snatch him from the zone. He enlisted the help of his brother Mufid, friends Maher Touma and Fadi, a taxi driver who regularly plied the route between the occupation zone and Beirut and was well-known to the SLA militiamen manning the crossing point on the Jezzine-Bater road at the northern end of the zone.
As part of the plan, Nohra befriended Hallaq.
“I invited him back to my house in Ibl al-Saqi. We would have parties with plenty of drinks and women. Hallaq liked his whisky,” Nohra said later.
Fearing that the Israelis were growing suspicious, Nohra set the date for the snatch for Feb. 20, 1996. That morning, Nohra drove Hallaq to his home in Ibl al-Saqi where he said they would drink whisky.
The two men, along with Touma, settled down and cracked open a whisky bottle while Mufid and Fadi hid in another room clutching machine pistols fitted with silencers.
“At the right moment, Mufid entered the room, pointed his gun at Hallaq and said ‘Ahmed Hallaq don’t try to resist. We have full control over you,’” Nohra said.
They hit the astonished Hallaq on the head with a gun and handcuffed him.
“Hallaq looked at me for help, still thinking I was an agent for Israeli intelligence. But I told him ‘I know who you are. You are Ahmed Hallaq. I’m not with the Israelis. You are very wrong.’ When he heard me say that, Hallaq seemed to crumple. He said ‘I will tell you everything if you kill me now.’ He was terrified that we were going to hand him over to Hizbullah and that he would be given a very tough time for what he did to Fouad Mughnieh. But I told him that we were going to hand him over to Lebanese and Syrian intelligence, not Hizbullah. That seemed to comfort him a little.”
They gagged Hallaq and bound him before dumping him in the trunk of a car.
Having phoned Lebanese intelligence, the four men and their captive left Ibl al-Saqi in two cars. They headed north along the road that would take them to Jezzine at the northern-most limit of the occupation zone. All four were armed with M-16 rifles and equipped with walkie-talkies. They were stopped at an Israeli Army checkpoint in Rihan. But Nohra had a green metal laissez passer given him by the Israelis.
“I spoke to the soldiers in Hebrew and showed them my sign. I told them we were Shin Bet. They waved us through happily,” Nohra said.
At the last SLA checkpoint in Jezzine, Nohra, Mufid and Touma returned to Ibl al-Saqi while Fadi, the taxi driver, drove 2 kilometers north to the army checkpoint at Bater where intelligence officers were waiting to receive Hallaq.
The hapless Hallaq was sentenced to death and executed seven months later. His disappearance aroused the suspicion of the Israelis and Nohra was questioned in the border town of Metulla. He and his comrades were later arrested.
Nohra recalled his subsequent trial at the Tel Aviv District Court with great relish. A vain man, he was convinced that the Israeli state attorney, Devora Chen, secretly lusted after him. He would recount his flirtatious verbal sparring with Chen in court with a knowing grin. Meanwhile, protracted plea bargaining on the sidelines saw his sentence gradually reduced from 10 years to four.
Even then, Nohra escaped serving a full term. After less than a year in prison, Nohra was included in a swap in July 1998 in which some 50 Lebanese detainees were exchanged for the remains of an Israeli commando who had been killed in a bungled raid on Insarieh in September 1997.
Nohra returned to his home in Ibl al-Saqi two years later following the Israeli withdrawal.
But Nohra was to have one last brush with controversy. In October 2000, Hizbullah fighters kidnapped three Israeli soldiers beside the security fence marking the edge of the Shebaa Farms. The three soldiers had been checking the fence for signs of breaches, a twice daily routine that had been monitored by the Hizbullah fighters manning a position just 50 meters away. But subsequent reports claimed that the Israeli soldiers had been lured by the promise of a drug deal and that none other than Mufid, with a packet of drugs in his hand, had been standing near the fence at the time of the snatch. Nohra, with that sly, lazy grin of his, described the allegations as “laughable.”
Yet, ultimately, it looks as though the Israelis were to have the last laugh. Nohra was the second former ally of Israel to have died a violent and mysterious death this year. In January, former warlord and minister Elie Hobeika was killed by a car bomb outside his house in Hazmieh.
In perhaps a final ­ intentional? ­ irony, Nohra met his death only a few meters away from the scene of a February 1999 roadside bomb ambush that claimed the life of Brigadier General Erez Gerstein, the Israeli Army’s senior commander in South Lebanon, an attack rated by Hizbullah as one of its most successful operations.
The person who pressed the button that destroyed Gerstein’s armored Mercedes remains unknown. He or she belonged to the occupation zone’s nebulous, shadowy world of deceit, deception and sudden death ­ a world that Ramzi Nohra knew only too well.