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French Version

U.S. experts arrive in Beirut to offer security assistance

A team of U.S. experts from the regional bureau of terrorism in Jordan arrived in the Lebanese capital late last night after Prime Minister Fouad Siniora requested international security assistance a day after a car bomb targeted prominent journalist May Chidiac.

U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Jeffrey Feltman said he had received a request from Siniora for American assistance in the investigations into the string of political assassinations and bombings that have plagued the country in recent months.

"I had a couple of conversations with Siniora last night, and we are looking positively at Siniora's request for assistance but this is a Lebanese investigation and process," said Feltman.

Feltman's statement comes after the son of slain Premier Rafik Hariri, MP Saad Hariri visited French President Jacques Chirac at the Elysee Palace in Paris to discuss the latest developments in Lebanon and the Arab world, but the two leaders spent much of the meeting talking about the failed attempt on Chidiac's life.

French Ambassador to Lebanon said he "strongly condemns the explosion that targeted May Chidiac. After the assassination of Samir Kassir there is a new breach against the freedom of the press and freedom of expression in Lebanon."

"We support the Lebanese authorities in revealing the truth and we will respond to the Lebanese request for security assistance. We call upon all parties to maintain security in Lebanon," he added.

The experts will check the site today and analyze samples to determine the kind of explosives used in Chidiac's failed assassination attempt and compare it with the explosives used to murder anti-Syrian journalist

Samir Kassir and former head of the Communist Party George Hawi.

Sources told The Daily Star that a two-floor building was checked 50 meters away from the explosion site.

"The second floor of the building appeared abandoned," said the source. "The windows were broken recently and it could be that the apartment might have been used by the perpetrators to stand behind the window where they have a clear view of the street where Chidiac was driving and then use the remote control to detonate the bomb."

Commenting on Sunday's failed assassination attempt on one of Lebanon's most renowned journalists, the U.S. ambassador said the United States was "appalled by the brutal attack against Chidiac. We were shocked by the brutality of this attack."

The remarks were made following a meeting with Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir, when Feltman said: "It is not only an attack against a respected journalist but also against the principles of the freedom of the press and freedom of expression that the Lebanese have worked so hard to promote and uphold, particularly in the past year."

Feltman added: "It is shocking that just as the international investigation is working to find out the truth behind one brutal attack, then you have a series of other brutal attacks; as we all know Chidiac was not a random target she is a face and voice well known in Lebanon and beyond Lebanon. The people who did this are enemies of Lebanon."

Feltman added that the ongoing UN probe into the assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri "is to get the truth behind the assassination of Hariri in response to the demands of the Lebanese people themselves. There are some people who want the truth to remain hidden and are threatened by what the truth may reveal and I think that that's the link with the May Chidiac attack yesterday."

"We hope that uncovering the truth behind Hariri's murder will show people that you can't get away with murder in Lebanon. The international community hopes to see an end to the series of brutal attacks including Chidiac's."

Siniora had said Sunday after the attack on Chidiac that it was related to the United Nations investigation into Hariri's assassination. Mehlis is expected to submit his final report on October 21.

"There is no doubt it is all related," Siniora said, adding, "The enemy will try a second time and a third time."

Meanwhile, Siniora held an extraordinary session with security chiefs on Monday to discuss the recent string of terrorist bombings.

After the meeting, Lebanese Interior Minister Hassan Sabaa said that Lebanon is facing "a somewhat professional terrorist phantom"

Sabaa said that the terrorists behind the explosions "have already devised a plan which they are carrying out," adding that until the Lebanese security services can apprehend some of those behind the attacks, "the plot will continue."

"This is no ordinary crime. You have to understand that in any crime there is a gap left by the criminal who has a conflict with someone and can be identified. Unfortunately, we are facing some kind of a ghost, or a specialized terrorist organization," Sabaa said.

Monday's exceptional meeting was to discuss Sunday's failed assassination attempt on May Chidiac, and how to prevent such attacks in the future.

Despite Sabaa's statement, he assured the public that the government's security agencies "will step up their efforts" to uncover information on the perpetrators and "infiltrate their circle."

He added: "we are passing through a critical time and the Lebanese are paying the price of true independence in this country. There has to be some kind of sacrifice from the citizen, but we will reach independence and safety in the end."

Sabaa also spoke of the former string of bombing attacks which targeted residential and commercial areas in Lebanon, saying that there is still no clear data on the identification of the perpetrators.

Sabaa also ensured the public that there is no need to call for a national state of emergency yet. He also dismissed any possibility the attacks might end once the security posts are filled.

Beirut 26-09-2005
Leila Hatoum
The Daily Star

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