First details of Chatah's assassination investigation emerge
Investigations into the assassination of Mohammed Chatah are still in the preliminary stage. They focus on finding the last owner of the car used in the bombing and on technical work involving CCTV footage. Meanwhile, potential suspects are restricted to some residents of the Ain al-Helweh Palestinian refugee camp.
A few hours after the December 27 bombing that killed Chatah in downtown Beirut, security forces, mainly Lebanese army intelligence, reported that the car in question was stolen a year ago from the Rmeileh region, along with another car that was apprehended with the robber.
At the Crime Scene
Footage from dozens of CCTV cameras showed:
– The car used in the bombing arrived at the crime scene 55 minutes prior to the explosion.
– Another car, a red Honda Civic, had parked at the same spot to reserve a place for the car used in the bombing, and then left the area. CCTV camera footage, mostly belonging to Solidere, captured the features of two people. The first drove the red car, and the second parked the car used in the bombing. However, both men wore scarves, hats, and winter sweaters to hide their identities.
– The red car took the sea road toward the north, and was last captured on camera in Dawra, heading to Nahr al-Kalb. There is almost no information involving the car used in the bombing.
– It is reported that Lebanese army intelligence and the Internal Security Forces’ Information Branch are cooperating to examine all cameras positioned on streets in downtown Beirut, the Corniche, and all roads leading to Beirut and the northern coast. Meanwhile, authorities are reviewing the movements of cars and individuals at the crime scene before and after the explosion.
Security sources close to March 14 said “strong” evidence suggests Chatah had been thoroughly monitored. Yet sources said Chatah had always refused to act as if he were a target, never traveling in a convoy and always driving in a recognizable car, which only had a dark tint. The sources didn’t mention whether he was warned.
Sources said he traveled along the same road 90 percent of the time while traveling to Hariri headquarters in Beit al-Wasat. However, there are questions regarding the validity of this evidence. Why wasn’t he warned in advance and obliged to take certain measures? Reportedly, interrogations of people close to Chatah and others in the Future Movement are focused on his work schedule that day. This comes on the tail of conflicting information on whether he was headed to a March 14 meeting in Beit al-Wasat or to participate in a TV seminar.
The Car Used in the Explosion
Less than 48 hours after the blast, two people from Ain al-Helweh were arrested and questioned about the olive green Honda used in the explosion.
In October 2012, an army patrol arrested Palestinian Ahmed Dawoud, nicknamed “Abu Dawoud,” near Spinneys supermarket in Saida for drunk driving. Interrogations revealed that he had stolen the black Honda he was driving, along with another olive green Honda from the Rmeileh region south of Beirut. Palestinians Moussa Moussa and Ziad Ibrahim Saleh, nicknamed “Speedy,” also participated in the car thefts.
Dawoud drove the black car while the other two took the olive green one to Ain al-Helweh, where the three suspects lived. Back then, Dawoud was referred to the competent judicial authority involved with theft, while Fatah Col. Talal the Jordanian turned Moussa in to the army intelligence at Darb al-Seem checkpoint 10 months ago. Moussa was referred to the judicial authority concerned with theft and drugs.
On Friday night, December 27, the Information Branch interrogated Dawoud in Tyre Prison about the olive green car, then transferred him to its headquarters in Beirut.
In his statement, Dawoud said Moussa and “Speedy” sold the car to a Palestinian who lived in the camp, named Abdel-Rahman Malek Murshid. A unit of the Information Branch headed to Roumieh Prison, where Moussa and Murshid’s 19-year-old son are currently imprisoned. Murshid’s whereabouts remain unknown.
Currently, army intelligence is coordinating with Palestinian security and Fatah in Ain al-Helweh. Army intelligence apprehended “Speedy,” who brought the car into the camp with Moussa.
Army Intelligence summoned Col. Talal the Jordanian to Defense Ministry headquarters in Yarzeh to hear his testimony about the car. His interrogation started Saturday, December 28, and he is expected to be released later today.
Interrogations of people arrested by the Information Branch provided conflicting information. Also, the arrested suspects have documented psychological problems, having acted strangely while incarcerated, even cutting themselves.
All statements concur that the car used in the bombing arrived at Ain al-Helweh, but its later whereabouts are still unknown. The investigations focus on whether it was bought by one or more individuals and whether it was ever taken to Syria.
Palestinian sources say they are cooperating with the Lebanese authorities to investigate whether Murshid is in fact the one who bought the car from the robbers, knowing that he belongs to the Haitham al-Shahbi Islamic group and lives in the camp.
Although some security sources speculate that Murshid left to fight with al-Nusra Front in Syria earlier this year, other sources refused to confirm this information.
The Situation in Ain al-Helweh
The army reinforced security measures in Ain al-Helweh and is currently examining all cars entering and leaving the camp. Just yesterday, the army and Palestinian security arrested a Palestinian attempting to bring a stolen car into the camp.
However, speculations about the camp’s involvement in Chatah’s assassination were a matter of protest here, and the Ain al-Helweh Youth Association called for a general strike today.
Local camp committees considered the accusations part of a campaign targeting Palestinian. However, Palestinian sources told Al-Akhbar, “Unfortunately, the camp is used by some takfiris, as it offers logistic opportunities to prepare terrorist attacks and car bombs. Hence, the camp became a venue for coordination meetings between radical groups and al-Qaeda leaders coming from outside the camp.”