An escalation in the case of Lebanese actor Ziad Itani, accused of spying for Israel, saw the intervention of President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Saad Hariri over the weekend in a bid to prevent the case taking a sectarian turn.
Itani made headlines in November when he was arrested by State Security on suspicion of spying for Israel. However, last week former head of the Internal Security Forces’ Anti-Cybercrime and Intellectual Property Rights Bureau, Maj. Suzan Hajj Hobeiche, was taken in for questioning on suspicion of hatching a plan to frame Itani.
The revelation led to public outcry on social media, particularly as Itani had reportedly confessed to the charges during questioning.
There have been allegations that Hariri and Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk have tried to use Itani’s case for electoral purposes, as the ISF’s Information Branch is seen as being close to Hariri’s Future Movement. Others have jumped on the development as showing the charges were baseless.
“The problem in this country is that everyone tries to use things to their benefit. This issue has nothing to do with elections or anything else,” Hariri said Sunday after meeting former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.
He stressed that State Security and the ISF had cooperated to investigate the new revelations and that a meeting had taken place between ISF head Maj. Gen. Imad Othman and State Security head Maj. Gen. Tony Saliba.
Aoun met with Saliba at Baabda Palace Saturday and reportedly called for all parties to respect the confidentiality of the investigation and not to speculate about the case until the legal and judicial procedures had been completed.
A source from State Security said Saliba briefed the president during his visit. The source said the agency approached the case with transparency, efficiency and competence.
A judicial source said that after Military Prosecutor Peter Germanos concluded his investigations and charged Itani with collaborating with Israel, the case was then referred to Military Investigative Judge Riad Abu Ghaida.
Itani was accused of communicating with an Israeli agent who at one point was supposed to come to Lebanon, before plans were changed.
During Abu Ghaida’s investigations, the judge said he saw some ambiguities in Itani’s confessions and the evidence. This prompted him on Feb. 27 to request the Information Branch expand the investigation, the source said.
New inquiries reportedly led the ISF to a hacker, named as Elie G., who is believed to have gained access to Itani’s social media accounts and could have fabricated conversations between Itani and the supposed Israeli agent. Elie G. was arrested Wednesday upon the request of the state prosecution. Others are believed to have been taken in for questioning along with Elie G.
During questioning, the suspected hacker allegedly claimed Hobeiche had played a role in framing Itani out of revenge.In October, Hobeiche was asked to step down from her role as the chief of the ISF’s Anti-Cybercrime and Intellectual Property Rights Bureau.
The decision at the time was linked to her “liking” a Twitter post shared by TV comedy producer Charbel Khalil that commented on the Saudi Arabian royal decree granting women the right to drive.
“The news of allowing women to drive in Saudi Arabia was incomplete,” Khalil wrote. “Women will be allowed to drive the car only if it is rigged [with explosives].” Hobeiche quickly “unliked” the post, but a screen shot of the “like” was taken and shared widely online, reportedly also by Itani.
The judicial source said that Hobeiche believed Itani had played a part in her dismissal.
Hariri dismissed the accusations that the security forces had made errors in their investigations.
“I fully trust State Security and the ISF. Any doubt in [their capabilities] is unfortunate because some are trying to give things a sectarian or religious turn and this is offensive to Lebanon and the security agencies,” Hariri said.
“State security has exerted huge efforts and it has previously stopped terror cells. This is not a politicized matter,” he added.
State Security media adviser Rima Sayrafi denied media reports that she had leaked details of the investigation or had met Itani and questioned him.
The Information Branch will conclude its investigation and refer the case to Abu Ghaida. The judicial source said that if the investigations show Itani is innocent, Abu Ghaida is expected to release him and continue investigations into both Hobeiche and Elie G.
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This article has been adapted from its original source.
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