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Lebanon: journalist comments on the arrest of Saleh Jamal.

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Tuesday, 1 June 2004




PETER THOMPSON: It’s no wonder the New South Wales police were having trouble finding Saleh Jamal. The 29-year-old charged over a drive-by shooting at the Lakemba police station had not only skipped bail but it would appear he used a fake passport to get into Lebanon. And it was there last Friday that Jamal, along with another Australian, was arrested on suspected terrorism charges.


The Lebanese authorities are keeping their cards close to their chests at this stage, but we’ve had freelance journalist, Lena Syedi(??), on the case for us, and she joins us now from Beirut.


Lena, can you as yet put a name to the second Australian man arrested?


LENA SYEDI: Yes. The two men they’ve arrested, as you know, one is called Saleh Jamal, who is believed to be an Australian with a Jordanian nationality as well, and the other is Haitham Mitsham(??), who is Australian with a Lebanese nationality.


PETER THOMPSON: Lena, what about the circumstances of their arrest? Is there any information on how they came to the attention of the Lebanese authorities?


LENA SYEDI: The information there is not very clear. My security sources tell me that there was a leak made to the Internal Security Forces and it was the Internal Security Forces Lebanese police that actually arrested them, but it’s not known at the moment exactly where and when and what they were doing.


PETER THOMPSON: What does that indicate? Does that indicate that someone has actually gone to the police or security forces with information?


LENA SYEDI: Yes, I think that’s the case, because there are no trials at the moment of terrorist contacts, so I don’t think it was somebody who was being questioned.


PETER THOMPSON: I understand also that there were others on the same arrest warrant.


LENA SYEDI: Yes, there’s two Lebanese and one whose nationality is unknown. We have no information about the third person of the ones that are still at large and haven’t been taken into custody yet.


PETER THOMPSON: In the case of that third person, was that person also likely to be an Australian?


LENA SYEDI: I asked that and they said no, they didn’t think that this person was non-Arab.


PETER THOMPSON: Who made the actual arrest in this case? Was it ordinary police?


LENA SYEDI: It was ordinary police, yes, but they are not being tried by the normal courts here. They will be tried by the military tribunal.


PETER THOMPSON: Tell us about the procedures that they now face.


LENA SYEDI: Okay. What they now face is tomorrow they will be interrogated by the interrogating magistrate and, according to the results of this interrogation, the magistrate will put forward a formal charge, and then a trial date will be set and then the trial will take place. Now, unfortunately here this will happen in the military tribunal and there’s no set time. I mean, it could be a very quick thing, if they want to do it and get it over and done with quickly, or it could drag out for a long time.


We did see this sort of trial drag out for a long time with the Kazal(??) brothers last year. It took over three months.


PETER THOMPSON: When an interrogating magistrate interviews someone with a view to possibly charging them, is that a special procedure used in terrorist charges?


LENA SYEDI: No, this is used in the military courts here, not just for terrorist charges but we do believe that these have got terrorist charges.


PETER THOMPSON: What do we know about the possible charges against them? Is the allegation that they have links with terror groups such as al-Qaeda?


LENA SYEDI: Yes, again according to a judicial source, they are believed to belong to a terrorist organisation and they are believed to be planning to carry out terrorist attacks both in Lebanon and elsewhere. They are believed to have links to al-Qaeda, but I’m not sure if that’s going to be on the actual charge itself.


PETER THOMPSON: Is it right that they’re to be questioned over the bombing of a McDonald’s restaurant in Beirut last year?


LENA SYEDI: At the moment there is speculation on that, but according to my sources there is no link so far, but we don’t know what the questioning will bring tomorrow. But this is one of the speculations that is going round.


PETER THOMPSON: What about the Australian embassy? Has the Ambassador visited them?


LENA SYEDI: I was very lucky that I was able to speak to the Ambassador just early, and she told me that she will be visiting them tomorrow, our time in Lebanon, which is probably evening time in Australia.




LENA SYEDI: That would be the first contact the Ambassador herself has had with them, and that the embassy itself is looking into the matter and especially checking the travel documents which have all been made available by the Lebanese authorities to the embassy. And that was all she would say on the matter for the moment.


PETER THOMPSON: Lena, is there anything else that sheds light on this at the moment?


LENA SYEDI: At the moment, no. I would hope that there will be something after both the meetings with the Ambassador and the interrogation of the judge. To hear there have been quite a few such trials and they all have gone to court and they’ve all come out with very high sentences, in fact, ranging from … suspected, four to 10 years.


PETER THOMPSON: Lena Syedi, thank you very much indeed, and we’ll keep following this story, and thanks for joining us from Beirut.