Defected Lebanese soldier tells court he was kidnapped

Published July 9th, 2015 - 05:00 GMT

A man being tried for defecting from the Lebanese army to join the Nusra Front failed to refute charges levied against him during a hearing Wednesday, a judicial source told The Daily Star.

Omar Shmaiteh, who appeared in late October in a video posted to a Nusra-affiliated Twitter account saying he had defected and joined the group because the army had become a tool in the hands of Hezbollah, gave a confusing and contradictory testimony before the Military Court.

The suspect, who had turned himself over to the army in the northern city of Tripoli almost one month after the video was released, was recruited by the notorious militant duo Shadi Mansour and Omar Mawlawi last October.

Mawlawi, who was killed by security forces three months ago, and Mansour, who is still on the run, convinced the suspect to defect by arguing that the military demonstrated a sectarian bias against Lebanon’s Sunnis.

A few soldiers have announced their defection over the past two years, with some joining the ranks of militant groups such as the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front. One of the soldiers, who appeared in a video posted by extremist group, said he defected over what he said was the military’s discrimination against the Sunni community in Lebanon.

During Wednesday’s hearing however, the suspect denied that he had defected from the army and claimed that he was kidnapped by four members of Mansour’s militia while he was making his way to work.

He claimed that he was abducted from Tripoli’s Al-Tal neighborhood and taken to the notorious Abdullah Bin Masoud Mosque in the Bab al-Tabbaneh neighborhood, which was previously controlled by Mawlawi and Mansour.

There, Mansour coerced the suspect into announcing his defection from the army and pledge his allegiance to the Nusra Front, according Shmaiteh’s testimony.

Wednesday’s claims, however, run contrary to the suspect’s initial testimony during interrogation in which he alleged that he had willingly joined Mansour, who provided him with a Kalashnikov rifle and assigned him to one of three militant groups operating within Bab al-Tabbaneh.

In his initial testimony, the suspect also claimed that he had provided the militants with information regarding army posts in the area and participated in clashes against the military in Bab al-Tabbaneh last October.

The suspect dismissed his previous testimony by claiming that it was coerced under torture in the Defense Ministry. He claimed that interrogators fabricated the testimony and took his signature while he was blindfolded.

Shmaiteh espoused more doubts over his allegations when was asked by the court about comments he had made to his peers in the military, in which he accused the army of demonstrating a sectarian bias.

When asked why he did not leave Bab al-Tabbaneh when the army gave militants a two-hour window to handover their weapons and flee, he said that he was handcuffed and monitored by masked gunmen.

He said he was later unshackled by a veiled woman, allowing him to make his way out of the volatile area toward the Bab al-Ramel neighborhood.

The suspect, however, could not explain how he was freed by the woman when he was under the strict surveillance of gunmen or how he was able to exit Bab al-Tabbaneh after it was captured by the army.

Shmaiteh’s next hearing was scheduled for Oct. 26.

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