Assassinated Lebanese police officer's parents wait for justice

AFP, Wednesday 29 Dec 2010

Two years after the murder of a Lebanese army officer who cooperated with the international tribunal charged with investigating the Hariri assassination, his parents continue to wait for a just retribution

Lebanese women light candles to mark the first anniversary of the assassination of Eid

As Lebanon braces for a UN court to issue indictments in the assassination of former prime minister Rafiq El Hariri, the parents of the policeman believed to have cracked the case are hoping the indictments will also shed light on the identity of their son's killed.

Major Wissam Eid, a top communications analyst with the police intelligence bureau, was assassinated in a January 25, 2008 car bombing outside Beirut.

Three years later, his parents are none the wiser as to who killed him.

They now wait with bated breath for news from the UN-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), which is set to issue an accusation in the 2005 Hariri murder, with the hope that Eid's killers too will be brought to justice.

"We knew he was going to be killed. I expected him to be killed on New Year's Eve ... But they let me keep him for 25 days," Wissam's mother, Samira, told AFP at her home in north Lebanon.

"But as soon as I heard news of the bombing that Saturday morning, I knew it was him," she added, wiping back tears. "I just knew."

The troubled STL is purportedly set to indict high-ranking members of Lebanon's powerful Shiite party Hezbollah over the bombing that killed the five-time Sunni premier and 22 others in Beirut.

But Hezbollah has warned that any such accusation would have grave repercussions -- a warning that hits home hard in a country that has been plagued for decades by paralysis, assassinations and all-out war.

Eid's name emerged as the expert who traced the mobile phone networks that allegedly led to Hezbollah.

He had been liaising with UN investigators looking into the Hariri murder at the time of his own killing.

The 31-year-old, who built the police force's communications analysis unit, had been dispatched for years to the country's toughest crimes.

He headed a team tasked with tracing Al-Qaeda-inspired groups and investigating nine murders of anti-Syrian figures as well as an army general between 2005 and his own death in 2008.

In the northern village of Deir Ammar, the home of Wissam's parents Mahmoud and Samira is a shrine dedicated to their son, whose intense gaze greets visitors from oversized banners hoisted outside the town entrance.

A short walk away, on a hilltop overlooking the Mediterranean, is the young officer's grave. Family still visit regularly to say a prayer and lay flowers there.

In the months before his murder, Wissam's parents had been gripped by a feeling of foreboding. Eid had been receiving threats and his boss, Samir Shehadeh, had survived an attack on his life in which four of his bodyguards were killed.

"We knew, and knew very well, what Wissam was working on although he never talked about it," said Eid's mother. "For about a year before Wissam was murdered, there were always men watching the house."

Wissam himself had twice been the target of bombings. The police force took extra security measures to protect him, keeping his travel to a minimum and setting him up in a high-security flat near his office.

Samira, who fondly describes her son as "full of life and a moralist through and through," concedes that his one flaw was his secretiveness.

"We knew he was threatened. We knew what he was doing was dangerous. We knew he wouldn't be with us for long," said the elegant, veiled mother of five. "But he never told us who was after him; although I'm sure he knew who it was.

"And even if he wanted to pull out, it was too late. When you're in over your head, it's hard to withdraw. They would have killed him anyway. He had the information."

The STL has been at the centre of an escalating deadlock between Hariri's son and political heir, Saudi-backed Prime Minister Saad Hariri, and the pro-Iranian Hezbollah.

As the indictment nears, fears that the probe will send the country sliding back into chaos are spiralling.

But Eid's father, himself a detective with the Internal Security Forces, maintains the unwavering belief that international justice will take its course.

"We can no longer bury the truth. This is a case in the hands of the international community, and the lead has been made public," said Mahmoud Eid.

"We must see this through. If forced to choose between peace and justice, we choose the truth."

General Ashraf Rifi, who commands the police force, first tapped Wissam Eid to join police intelligence in 2001. Today, he is adamant that the major's death will not join the list of Lebanon's unsolved murders.

"At the end of the day, I am responsible for my officers," Rifi told AFP at his office in Beirut. "Wissam Eid was a brilliant, outstanding officer. We lost a great man.

"But as I said at the site of the bombing to those who are sending us this message, that we should cease working, we will not stop. This only increases our will to continue, to see this through, no matter the costs."

For Major Eid's grieving mother, however, hope for justice is fast fading as the years go by.

"I know my husband has another opinion, but I don't believe justice will prevail," she said. "As long as these divisions in the country remain ... I don't think the truth will ever see the light.

"In all honesty, the only thing that really gives me hope is that God will let me see him when it is my time to go."

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