‘Most powerful woman in Lebanon’ held over claims she framed actor

The Lebanese security authorities have arrested Maj. Suzan El-Hajj Hobeiche over the suspicion of fabricating charges on actor Ziad Itani, who was detained on Nov. 24, 2017, on charges of 'collaborating' with Israel. (AFP)
Updated 04 March 2018
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‘Most powerful woman in Lebanon’ held over claims she framed actor

BEIRUT: A prominent Lebanese police chief has been arrested over allegations that she framed one of the country’s most popular comedians by claiming he was working as a spy for the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad — the latest twist in a remarkable case that has gripped Beirut for months.
Ziad Itani, who is also a leading actor and playwright, was indicted in November for allegedly collaborating with the Jewish state to collect information about Lebanese politicians and journalists. The case shocked the nation’s capital, where his irreverent take on city life has won him legions of fans.
Now, in another extraordinary turn of events, Maj. Suzan El-Hajj Hobeiche, often referred to as “Lebanon’s most powerful woman,” has been detained on suspicion of making false claims against Itani.
Politicians and Lebanese media reacted with incredulity to the the latest developments, lambasting the government for causing a “security scandal” and mishandling the entire case.
Interior Minister Nohad Al-Mashnouk denounced “malevolent, idiotic and sectarian people” for trying to frame the comedian.
“All Lebanese apologize to Ziad Itani. Innocence is not enough. The only fixed truth is that we are proud of him and his patriotism,” he said, in remarks that some observers interpreted as a bid to win support for his campaign in the May 2014 parliamentary elections.
Meanwhile, cultural journalist Rana Najjar wrote that she “did not believe the charges from the beginning.”
She described Itani as “a poor, simple and peaceful person loved by the people” and said his plight raised questions about similar cases the security forces had made against civil society activists and media figures.
Hobeiche, the former director of the cybercrimes bureau in the Lebanese security forces, is accused of using a hacker to create fake social media accounts that suggested Itani was collaborating with an Israeli female agent.
The police chief is believed to have acted out of revenge following her sacking from the cybercrimes bureau last October. Hobeiche was dismissed soon after “liking” a Twitter post shared by television producer Charbel Khalil, which mocked a decree by the Saudi government that granted women the right to drive.
“The news that women will be allowed 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 removed her “like,” but it was too late. She had reportedly taken a screenshot and circulated the post elsewhere. The assistant state commissioner to the military court, Judge Hani Al-Hajjar, said Hobeiche believed this played a part in her dismissal.
At the judge’s request, Hobeiche was taken from her house on Friday to the information branch headquarters of the Internal Security Forces for questioning. She will be held until next Monday, when the case file will be transferred to the military court.
Before becoming an actor and comedian, Zitani, who is still waiting to be released, worked as a journalist for Al Mayadeen TV, a media outlet known for its sympathetic coverage of the militant group Hezbollah.
In response to the furor over the case, Justice Minister Selim Jreissati tweeted that “the Lebanese people do not apologize, and it is not befitting any official to resort to an apology to gain electoral points. Lebanese courts are the only competent power to render innocent or guilty judgments in the name of the Lebanese people.”


Iraq lifts nearly 30 km of blast walls from Baghdad: official

Updated 38 min 37 sec ago
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Iraq lifts nearly 30 km of blast walls from Baghdad: official

BAGHDAD: Iraqi authorities have removed nearly 30 kilometers of concrete blast walls across Baghdad in the last six months, mostly around the capital’s high-security Green Zone, a senior official told AFP.
Since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, T-walls — thick barriers about six meters tall and one meter wide — have surrounded potential targets of car bombs or other attacks.
When premier Adel Abdel Mahdi came to power last year, he promised to remove barriers, checkpoints and other security measures to make Baghdad easier to navigate.
“Over the last six months, we removed 18,000 T-walls in Baghdad, including 14,000 in the Green Zone alone,” said Staff Lt. Gen. Mohammed Al-Bayati, the PM’s top military adviser.
Hundreds of the security checkpoints that contributed to Baghdad’s notorious traffic jams have also been removed.
And according to the Baghdad municipality, 600 streets that had been closed off to public access have been opened in the last six months.
Among them are key routes crossing through Baghdad’s Green Zone, the enclave where government buildings, UN agencies and embassies including the US and UK missions are based.
It was long inaccessible to most Iraqis until an order from Abdel Mahdi last year, and families can now be seen picking their way across its manicured parks for sunset pictures.
Iraq is living a rare period of calm after consecutive decades of violence, which for Baghdad peaked during the sectarian battles from 2006 to 2008.
It was followed, in 2014, by Daesh’s sweep across a third of the country and a three-year battle to oust the militants from their urban strongholds.
The group still wages hit-and-run attacks against Iraqi security forces and government targets, and Baghdad’s authorities are on high alert.
Thousands of the removed T-walls have been placed on Baghdad’s outskirts to prevent infiltration by Daesh sleeper cells, according to Bayati.