By Youssef Diab and Mohammed Zaatari
BEIRUT/SIDON, Lebanon -- A family dispute – not politics – is behind the murder of a pro-Syrian regime official in south Lebanon and the suspected killers have been arrested, the Lebanese Army said Thursday, in a development that will drastically change the course of the investigation into the incident.
Initially, the killing of Mohammad Jemo, a staunch supporter of Syrian President Bashar Assad, who was shot dead Wednesday by unidentified gunmen at his house in the coastal town of Sarafand, some 15 kilometers from Sidon, was linked to the bloody conflict in Syria.
But the Army’s statement and sources following up the ongoing probe into Jemo’s killing have indicated that personal and family disputes between the victim and his wife could be behind the crime.
Judicial sources said that “jealousy” was behind the murder, raising suspicions that Jemo’s widow, Siham Younes, had orchestrated the killing with the help of her brother and nephew.
A statement issued by the Army Command said that following Jemo’s killing, the Army Intelligence Directorate began its investigation, which led to “identifying and arresting the perpetrators and seizing the weapons used in the crime.”
“The preliminary investigation indicated that there are no political motives behind the incident,” the statement said.
The Army statement did not say how many suspects had been arrested.
Sources following up the investigation said that two men, Ali Younes, a brother of the victim’s widow, and Badih Younes, a nephew of the widow, have been arrested by Army Intelligence in connection with their alleged role in the murder.
During preliminary interrogations, the two indicated that personal and family reasons could be behind Jemo’s killing, the sources said.A judicial source said “jealousy” was behind the murder, raising the possibility that his wife had plotted the crime with the help of the two men in custody.
Lebanese authorities have asked their Syrian counterparts to arrest Siham Younes, who traveled to Syria Thursday to attend her husband’s burial, the sources said.
They added that Jemo had abandoned his wife for several months. On the day of his killing, Jemo and his wife returned to Sarafand after midnight after attending a social occasion in the southern city of Tyre, the sources said.
Once inside the house, the wife claimed that she had forgotten her handbag in the car and went out to retrieve it. At this time, her brother and nephew allegedly opened fire on Jemo, killing him instantly, the sources added.
Jemo’s body was taken to Syria and was to be buried at Martyrs’ Cemetery in Latakia. A delegation from the Syrian Embassy in Beirut took delivery of Jemo’s body after it managed to persuade the victim’s widow that he be buried in Syria.
Jemo’s body was first taken from the hospital to his home in Sarafand, where his family was receiving condolences. Once it arrived at his house, Jemo’s body was showered with rose petals and rice.
After his widow and daughter had a final viewing, the body was placed in a Lebanese Red Cross vehicle which took it to the Arida crossing on the Lebanese-Syrian border, where it was handed over to Syrian authorities.
Earlier in the day, President Michel Sleiman denounced Jemo’s murder and warned against the spread of the conflict between Syrian rivals into Lebanon.
Hezbollah condemned Jemo’s murder as an “outrageous crime,” blaming it on terrorist groups.
“The ugly assassination crime which targeted struggler Jemo ... is an indication of the policy of elimination that governs the groups of violence and terrorism which claim to be working for justice and freedom, while they are working to muzzle any free voice that does not conform with their interests and wishes,” Hezbollah said in a statement.
“This outrageous crime sounds the alarm bell in the Lebanese arena and should prompt a search for the most appropriate way to confront these terrorist groups before their danger aggravates and spins out of control, thus threatening peace and stability in Lebanon and in the region in general,” it added.
Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt denounced Jemo’s murder and called for the establishment of a Syrian refugee camp to minimize security threats in Lebanon.