Libya revolt may clear mystery on Lebanon Imam
Lebanon's Shia community braces for knowledge of spiritual leader Musa Sadr's disappearance in 1978 in a trip to Libya if Gaddafi falls
A billboard depicting Imam Musa al-Sadr, the founder of the Shi'ite Amal movement who disappeared on a visit to Libya in 1978, decorates a street in Tyre, southern Lebanon, Wednesday, (Reuters).
Lebanon's Shiites are hoping that the revolt in Libya may shed light on the fate of their revered spiritual leader Musa Sadr, whose 1978 disappearance soured relations between the two countries.
"We have long been waiting for Moamer Gaddafi the tyrant to fall or be killed in the hope of knowing what happened to our Imam," said Hussein Maana, 51, a resident of the southern Lebanese village of Maaraka, the hometown of Sadr's family.
Sadr's daughter Hawra, who is married to an Iranian, said earlier this week that the uprising in Libya has nurtured hope her father may be alive.
The Iranian-born Lebanese cleric, who would be 83 in April, mysteriously vanished on August 31, 1978 while on a trip to Libya.
Abdel Moneim al-Honi, a former colonel in the Libyan army who took part in the 1969 revolution that brought Gaddafi to power, revealed this week that the Libyan strongman had ordered Sadr killed during his visit and that the cleric was buried in the southern region of Sebha.
But members of Lebanon's Shiite Amal movement, founded by Sadr, believe he is not dead.
"We have information indicating that Imam Sadr is alive and is being held in a Libyan prison," Khalil Hamdan, an Amal official, told AFP.
He added that a crisis cell had been set up to follow the case since the uprising in Libya started on February 17.
A soft-spoken scholar widely popular among Lebanon's Shiites as well as the country's other communities, Sadr's fateful trip to Libya was at the invitation of Gaddafi.
At the time, Sadr was trying to negotiate an end to Lebanon's civil war (1975-1990), in which Palestinian factions were involved.
Gaddafi was believed to be shipping weapons to the Palestinians and other groups and Sadr, according to reports, was hoping to convince the Libyan despot to refrain from stoking the unrest in Lebanon.
But his visit to Tripoli along with two aides took a sour turn after he got into a heated argument with Gaddafi who ordered that the three men be "taken away", according to an indictment against the Libyan leader issued by Lebanese authorities.
Relations between Libya and Lebanon have been at a low point since the cleric's disappearance, which dealt a heavy blow to the Shiite community.
The NBN television station, run by Amal, has in recent days continuously broadcast archive footage of Sadr giving speeches and greeting people while portrayingGaddafi as a devilish figure with blood on his hands.
The station has also aired a new song that warns Gaddafi's end is near.
"This is a revolution against this century's despot," the lyrics say. "Our leader (Sadr) is returning."
The Shiite Hezbollah's Al-Manar television station has also portrayed Gaddafi as a murderer, running footage of victims of the uprising in Libya and some of the Lybian leader's rambling speeches.
"Sadr was an extraordinary man, a man of dialogue," said Ali Hussein, 28, a resident of Hezbollah's stronghold in Beirut's southern suburbs, where posters of the gentle-faced Imam can be seen.
"I was not even born when he disappeared but my father told me all about him," he added. "I have read everything written about him and when he comes back it will be a huge celebration.
"But if God forbid he doesn't return, at least we will know what exactly happened to him."