BEIRUT -- Lebanese prosecutors are seeking to interrogate a former member of Parliament, whose party supports Syrian President Bashar Assad, about a double bombing in August that killed scores of worshippers at mosques that support Syrian rebels.
The Arab Democratic Party has denounced the request for its leader, Ali Eid, to appear for questioning about the attack after allegations that he helped several of the accused suspects flee the Lebanese city of Tripoli for nearby Syria. The party, which Eid and his son, Rifat, lead, dominates life in northern Lebanon’s Alawite community, which has very close religious and political ties to the Syrian regime. Assad and much of the Syrian elite are Alawites, who follow an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
It’s these ties that immediately drove suspicion of the party’s involvement in the double bombing, which targeted Sunni Muslims known for their anti-Assad stance. The ensuing warrants and arrests by judicial authorities indicate that investigators have concluded the party was involved in the plot along with Syrian military intelligence officials, who’ve been named as conspirators in the bombings but cannot be apprehended across the nearby border in Syria.
A series of arrests and interrogations of low-level figures in the apparent plot recently led to top officials in the party being named as persons of interest in the case, most recently Eid himself. The ADP denies the charges and has threatened to block – with military force – any attempt to arrest or question party members in the case.
ADP’s well-equipped militia has been battling Sunni militias in central Tripoli for weeks in some of the worst sustained fighting linked to the neighboring Syrian conflict in over a year. Dozens of people have been killed or wounded in two weeks of near constant violence, which has highlighted the inability of the Lebanese military and police to assert control.
The head of the Alawite sect in Lebanon – Sheikh Assad Assi – this week denounced the investigation into the blasts as “politicized” and said it was “linked to a foreign scheme,” phrasing that is often used here to describe not just events in Lebanon, but the anti-Assad insurgency as well.
At the same time, he said the Alawite sect “totally disavows” the mosque attacks.
In an interview Friday with a local news outlet that also supports the Assad government, Rifat Eid said his father would not make himself available to the police and claimed that foreign pressure from Saudi Arabia was behind the request.
The current allegation that Ali Eid was involved in the attack revolves around the testimony of his driver, who is in custody for the bombing and reportedly told investigators that he helped Ahmed Mehri, a party member suspected of playing a key role in the bombings, escape Lebanon for Syria at the request of the elder Eid.
Prosecutors from Lebanon’s secretive military tribunal system have charged seven men in the bombings, which killed 45 and wounded hundreds as they left prayer services. Most of the accused have direct links to the ADP. Only three men have actually been arrested, and investigators believe the rest are in Syria.
On Friday, Lebanese officials struggled to prevent Tripoli from exploding into further violence after a week that saw army units come under repeated fire from both sides of the conflict as they tried to restore order.
Prothero is a McClatchy special correspondent. Twitter: @mitchprothero