BEIRUT – Lebanon's president on Friday ordered the release of an innocent Palestinian who spent 15 years in prison after he was convicted of assassinating a Jordanian diplomat in Beirut.
A Lebanese court found Youssef Mahmoud Shaaban guilty in 1994 of shooting the diplomat while he sat in his car in front of the Jordanian Embassy in January of that year. But in 2002, a court in Jordan found that other people were responsible for the slaying and convicted them.
It took seven more years for Lebanon to issue a presidential pardon required for Shaaban's release. A statement Friday from the president's office did not say why it took so long.
At the time of Shaaban's arrest, authorities identified him as a follower of Palestinian militant leader Abu Nidal, who was involved in stunning acts of terrorism around the globe before his death in 2002.
During his trial, Shaaban admitted being part of Abu Nidal's group. Those who were later found responsible for the diplomat's killing were also linked to Abu Nidal.
The assassination of Naeb Imran Maaytah, first secretary of the Jordanian Embassy in Beirut, took place as Jordan and Israel were in negotiations that led to a peace treaty in October 1994. Abu Nidal opposed peace between Israel and Arab nations.
Human rights groups, Shaaban's family and some politicians sought his pardon for years, saying he was unjustly imprisoned.
President Michel Suleiman issued the pardon Friday and instructed the Justice Ministry to arrange his release.