Attack on economist fuels anger over Beirut capital controls

An anti-government protester throws stones at police during a protest against a parliament session in downtown Beirut, Lebanon. (AP)
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Updated 14 February 2020

Attack on economist fuels anger over Beirut capital controls

  • “My economic stances are the reason behind the assault”

BEIRUT: Lebanese economist Mohammed Zbib, who joined a campaign criticizing the Lebanese central bank’s economic measures, was attacked on Wednesday night by unidentified persons after he left the campus of the American University in Beirut (AUB), where he was taking part in an economic seminar.

Zbib told Arab News that he “filed a complaint before the public prosecutor against two unknown persons, even though the attackers’ faces were exposed, and there were security cameras that recorded the incident. The attackers didn’t utter a word, they only beat me for a few minutes and then fled the scene.”

He said: “I have no personal differences with anyone. My economic stances are the reason behind the assault. Nothing scares us; the assault might be to prevent me from carrying out seminars and activities.”

The economist added: “If the government decides to pay the Eurobonds’ entitlement, Lebanon will be driven toward an even worse crisis. The central bank must inform us of its assets before taking any step. What is the use of breaking the assets if we do not have enough money to meet the citizens’ needs? What is required is to stop paying and negotiate with the creditors.”

“No one will tell us that we are facing a tight deadline, nor that the creditors will seize Lebanon’s assets abroad in the event of nonpayment. Lebanon has no properties abroad, but the central bank does.”

Zbib considered the discussion regarding the capital control law to be “misleading, because its application will include all depositors. We revealed, by numbers, that $27 billion was withdrawn from banks in 2019.”

Several media professionals stood in solidarity with Zbib. The Skeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom called for conducting “the necessary investigations and revealing the attackers’ identities as well as the identity of whoever ordered them to carry out the assault, no matter how important they are, and strongly hold them accountable.”

The Reporters for Freedom center described the attack on Zbib as “organized,” while the Syndicate of Editors condemned it as a “cowardly act.”

The hashtag #Mohammad_Zbib topped the list of Lebanon trends on Twitter.

“This is the ruling mafia,” said activist Lucien Bourjeily, while writer Ahmad Baydoun Zbib described him as a “strident voice against looters.”

University professor Wissam Saadeh said: “The aggression of capital thugs against Zbib requires that classes be more organized from now on.”

In a statement reported by the French Embassy, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs called on Lebanon to “proceed quickly to meet the economic, social and political aspirations that the Lebanese have expressed for several months, especially economic transparency, as well as economic and financial sustainability, combating corruption, and the judiciary system’s independence.”


French extremist trained by Paris attacks leader given 12-year jail term

Updated 15 min 5 sec ago

French extremist trained by Paris attacks leader given 12-year jail term

  • Reda Hame, 34, was sentenced to 12 years in jail

PARIS: A French court on Tuesday handed a 12-year jail term to a computer technician who traveled to Syria to wage war and trained under the suspected ringleader of the 2015 Paris attacks.
Reda Hame, 34, who was convicted of participating in a criminal conspiracy aimed at harming people, received weapons training and a mission from Abdelhamid Abaaoud during his eight-day stay in Syria in the summer of 2015.
Abaaoud, who is believed to have coordinated the November 2015 attacks that left 130 people dead in Paris, taught him how to fire an assault rifle and handle a grenade.
He then dropped him off at the Turkish border with orders to return home and carry out an attack on behalf of the Daesh group.
Hame told investigators that Abaaoud, who was killed in a shootout with French police after the Paris attacks, asked him if he would be prepared to shoot into a crowd, giving as an example a rock concert.
But the Paris native, who was arrested on his return to France, insisted that he never had any intention of following Daesh’s orders.
Styling himself an Daesh deserter, he told the court he only pretended to accept his mission to escape the horrors of the Syrian war and regretted ever enlisting with Daesh.
The prosecution had challenged his account of his change of heart, portraying him as a dutiful Daesh “soldier” who had traveled to Syria to join Daesh “at a time when the most hardine, those who will go on to attack Europe and France, are leaving (France for Syria).”
In sentencing Hame to 12 years in jail — the prosecution had sought a 20-year term — the court “showed clemency,” the defendant’s lawyer Archibald Celeyron said.
Hundreds of young French radicals traveled to Syria and Iraq to join Daesh before US-led coalition forces dislodged the insurgents from the last holdouts last year.
Dozens have returned home and been jailed in France but some scores more remain in camps in Syria.