BEIRUT – A former Lebanese minister charged with plotting a wave of bombings at Syria's behest confessed to transporting explosives into the country in collaboration with Syrian intelligence, his lawyer said Tuesday, arguing that his client was the victim of entrapment.
Ex-Information Minister Michel Samaha acknowledged during a session of his trial on Monday that he brought explosives from Syria into Lebanon, working in collaboration with Syrian intelligence and a Lebanese agent. But his lawyer, Sakhr al-Hashem, said Samaha denied any role in selecting targets for the planned attacks — said to target a Sunni Muslim lawmaker and Muslim holiday banquets — that were ultimately foiled by Lebanese authorities.
Samaha told the military tribunal that he only suggested planting explosives at illegal crossings between Syria and Lebanon "for Lebanon's sake, not Syria's" — apparently in reference to fears of militants moving across the countries' shared border.
"I will never forgive myself," Samaha told the court, according to his statements published by Lebanon's state news agency.
Al-Hashem told The Associated Press that Samaha was the victim of entrapment by a Lebanese government operative and a foreign spy agency, saying "this absolves him of responsibility, totally." He said he expects the former minister to receive a three-to-seven year sentence.
Lebanon, a country plagued by decades of strife, has been on edge since the uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad broke out in March 2011. The Syrian crisis eventually turned into a civil war that has killed more than 220,000 people, repeatedly spilled over into Lebanon and ratcheted up sectarian and political tensions among the Lebanese.
The 2012 arrest of Samaha, a close ally of Assad, and his indictment a year later dealt an embarrassing blow to Syria, which has long acted with impunity in Lebanon. Along with Samaha, the head of Syria's powerful National Security Council, Brig. Gen. Ali Mamlouk, and a Syrian aide were also indicted in the case. They were not in court on Monday. The trial resumes May 13.
Lebanon's intelligence chief, Wissam al-Hassan, who helped uncover the bombing plot, was assassinated in a car bomb in Beirut only months after the indictment. Many Lebanese viewed his assassination as a relief to Damascus and a reminder that Lebanon cannot be insulated from Syria.