Terrorism |

Tripoli terror attack spurs militant sentencing debate in Lebanon

By Junaid Salman in Beirut


Lebanese President Michel Aoun meets with ministers and security officials to discuss tighter security measures and improving intelligence-sharing efforts after the June 3rd Tripoli attack. [Photo courtesy of Dalati and Nohra] 

The recent "lone wolf" attack in Lebanon's northern city of Tripoli has sparked widespread debate regarding the sentences handed to militants convicted of joining extremist groups such as the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS).

Many have been calling for more robust sentences for convicted terrorists and stronger tracking of former terror detainees.

Others have been calling for a reform of Lebanon's prison system and the rehabilitation of inmates to avoid having them fall into the grips of extremist ideology, which has been reportedly festering in some Lebanese prisons.

On the eve of Eid al-Fitr (June 3rd), a former ISIS element who had fought in Syria went on a shooting spree that led to the death of two army personnel and two members of the Internal Security Forces (ISF).

Abdul-Rahman Mabsout had left Lebanon for Turkey in 2015 in an attempt to join ISIS and stayed there for a month, but he was unable to cross the border toward ISIS-controlled areas.

He later managed to travel to Idlib and join ISIS. Several months later, Mabsout returned to Lebanon where he was detained in 2016.

He was referred to a military court which sentenced him to one and a half years in prison, but was released early in 2017.

Military court system

In Lebanon, terror-related crimes fall under the jurisdiction of the military court.

"The military court hands judgements to those involved in terrorism charges based on the circumstances of each case," said former Permanent Military Court head retired Brig. Gen. Ibrahim Khalil.

"Harsher sentences are handed to those who commit acts against the Lebanese State or cause harm to its institutions," he told Al-Mashareq.

Sentences also are handed to those who belong to groups banned under Lebanese law, he told Al-Mashareq, such as ISIS.

However, the military court takes into consideration during trial the repentance of those who traveled outside Lebanon to fight alongside terror groups and later returned home, he said.

"On the other hand, those who became increasingly immersed in terrorism before returning to Lebanon were put on trial upon their return and a large number of them are languishing in prison," Khalil said.

Putting extremists under surveillance

"Lebanon has no rehabilitation programmes for those who fought with or were affiliated with terror groups in Syria," nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Centre for the Middle East Mona Alami told Al-Mashareq.

There are many people in Lebanon who before the outbreak of the events in Syria "were imprisoned on minor charges, such as sympathizing with extremist groups", she said, adding that these have languished in prison alongside hard-line extremists while awaiting their trials.

The dire economic situation in the areas where these individuals reside, as well as Hizbullah’s expanded influence which made them feel marginalized, "fueled their motivation to join terrorist groups in Syria", Alami explained.

"A number of them had openly stated that if they cannot fight Hizbullah in Lebanon, they would go to Syria to fight it there," she said.

Alami stressed the need to put these individuals -- even if they did not fight -- along with their families, "under surveillance by [Lebanese] security agencies, which has not been done with a large number of them".

Meanwhile, politicians’ interference with the judiciary renders the sentences issued to terrorists and those who engage in terrorist activities subject to criticism, former president of the Lebanese Bar Association Antoine Klimos told Al-Mashareq.

The independence of the judiciary "ensures the issuance of appropriate sentences to those involved in terror attacks or associated with extremist groups", he said.

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