Double murder in Beirut
:: Who's shaking Lebanon's security? ::
by Hichem Karoui
On Monday, May
21, the son and heir of ultra –radical Palestinian
militant Ahmad Jibril was killed in a car bombing in
Beirut, hours before the discovery of the decomposed
body of Ramzi Irani, a follower of the banned
Lebanese Forces movement who had been missing for
almost a fortnight. The first murder concerned a
prominent pro-Syrian activist, and the second a man
known for his anti-Syrian activity. The hypothesis
that the two murders might be linked was contemplated
with fear and quite comprehensibly neglected in the
Lebanese media. The question that sounded more urgent
was: who wanted to shake the frail security in
Popular Front Secretary General’s son, Jihad Ahmad Jibril, was
assassinated Monday 21 May in a car explosion. A 2 kg TNT booby trap was
placed under his seat in the white Peugeot 505 he was driving. It exploded
at 11:45a.m, as soon as he turned the ignition key.
Jihad, 38, was residing in
Beirut as he was pursuing his law studies at the Lebanese University. But
he was not an ordinary student since he was leading at the same time
another kind of life, as he was the head of operations in Lebanon for the
group: the popular Front for the liberation of Palestine-General Command
(i.e. PFLP-GC). The PLO faction is on the US State Department’s list of
terrorist organizations and in recent years has focused its efforts on
attacking Israel from bases in Lebanon. The small Syrian-based group has
opposed the Oslo process and rejected peace with Israel on its grounds. It
is said that hostility has prevailed over Ahmad Jibril and Yasir Arafat’s
relationship for about two decades.
As commander for military operations Jihad
was also member of the Popular Front’s executive committee leadership. He
had attended the Libyan military academy from 1981 to 1983 and had the
rank of a lieutenant colonel. He was married and father of two sons,
10-year-old Ahmad and 6 year-old Ali. But apparently, this is not the
first incident that occurred to him. In 1997, he was badly wounded in an
explosion during an exercise in the Bekaa valley, and in 2000 he escaped
assassination attempt when his car came under fire near a PFLP-GC base
south of Beirut.
1-2) Claims and
Israel has been roundly blamed for the
assassination. Yet, according to some security sources and observers
Jibril’s death might be the result of a feud between rival Palestinian
factions, most of which are represented in Lebanon, from Hamas to the
Islamic Jihad and Yasir Arafat’s Fatah.
“Mossad managed this time to assassinate my
son after having tried in vain four times to do it”, Ahmad Jibril told
reporters at his headquarters in Damascus. He told Qatar-based Al-Jazeera
television that his son Jihad had been supervising the training and arming
of radical Islamic Palestinian group Hamas, which was almost unthinkable
some years ago for a radical Marxist movement such as PFLP-GC!
Maybe it would not be useless to recall
that the PFLP-GC was one of three far-left Palestinian nationalist groups
that formed after the Six Day War of 1967 and pioneered guerilla
strategies in the early 1970s. The two others are George Habash’s PFLP
(i.e. Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine), and Nayef Hawatme’s
DFLP (i.e. Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine). As a matter
of fact, Ahmad Jibril who was one of the PFLP’s earliest leaders broke
away in 1968 to form the PFLP “General Command”. The new group initially
declared that its focus would be military, not political.
Once key players in Palestinian politics,
these secular, Marxist fronts lost influence with the demise of their
Soviet backers, their rejection of the 1990s Israeli-Palestinian peace
process, and the rise of Islamist groups- especially Hamas- that
supplanted them as the main Palestinian opposition to Arafat.
They remained sidelined as Arafat established the
The PFLP-GC maintains
headquarters in Damascus. It has joined a series of anti-Arafat
rebellions, and though it had been a secular Marxist-Leninist
organization, it changed completely of rhetoric and started using a
religious one after accepting assistance from Iran in the late 1980s.
Unlike the two other groups, the PFLP-GC has not reconciled with Arafat.
In the mid 1990s, Jibril reportedly threatened to assassinate Arafat for
pursuing a political settlement with Israel.
In May 2001, Israeli forces
intercepted a shipment of Katyusha rockets and anti-aircraft missiles
being sent by the PFLP-GC to the Gaza strip; Ahmad Jibril claimed it one
of many such shipments.
About seven hours after the killing of
Jihad Jibril, the decomposed body of Ramzi Irani was found in Beirut’s
Caracas neighborhood, some two weeks after the pro-Lebanese Forces
engineer disappeared. Police discovered the body, swollen and covered with
black grime, around 6.30 p.m. in the trunk of a late-model car after an
unidentified individual reported a strong odor coming from the car parked
across from the Tahiti Tower. According to some sources, the car was
registered in Irani’s name but it remained unclear how long the vehicle
had been in the area.
Ramzi Albert Irani, 36, married and father
of two children: Yasmina and Jed, was working for the Lebanese bureau of
the French oil company Total-Fina-Elf. He was reported missing on May 8, a
day after he failed to return to his Achrafieh home from his workplace in
Hamra. Sources close to the Lebanese Forces Party reported that on May 7
at 4.30p.m. he was kidnapped in the middle of the busy Hamra Street in
Beirut and disappeared since without leaving a trace. He was on his way
home to celebrate the birthday of his 5 years old daughter with his
Ramzi was the youngest of a
family of three children. His older brother Nabil is a surgeon; the
youngest child, Nayla, studied literature, then beauty care, working as a
Ramzi was a civil engineer. “We used to live in Africa”, says his mother,
“but we came back to Lebanon because we wanted the children to study here.
Ramzi went to kindergarten at the Sisters of Ibrin School, then went to
primary school at the Collège de la Salle, Clémenceau before enrolling at
the Frères School at Mont-la-Salle.
“Because of the war, we preferred to send him to study in France, where he
did higher maths, physics and other sciences. He used to come home for
vacations. He decided to come back and stay for good. He was very much
attached to his family here”.
His mother recalled that he completed his degree in physics, then went on
to study civil engineering at the Lebanese University. He then traveled to
Kuwait, afterwards working for the French oil company Total for 10 years.
His work took him all over Lebanon, where among other things he supervised
the building of gas stations. This never gave him any problems, his mother
Ramzi Irani was well known as the representative of the
Lebanese Forces Students’ organisation in the Lebanese University of
Beirut. He has been very active over the past decade in many student
activities and graduated as an engineer. He became very active in the
Engineer’s Union in Lebanon where he was instrumental in defeating the
Regime and Hizbullah’s candidates in the last union elections…
That was not the first incident that
occurred to him, though. According to some sources, on October 17, 2000,
the government arrested Ramzi and “ he was released a few days later with
Claims and background:
The Lebanese Forces Party blamed the
Lebanese Intelligence service for the kidnapping of Ramzi Irani. In a
letter dispatched to foreign chancelleries and media, prior to the
discovery of the murder, we read for instance:
“Whilst, despite great objections, the
Intelligence Services in Lebanon were always boasting about Security and
Civil Peace justifying their military practices as necessary and
indispensable to maintain order even at the price of denying essential
Freedoms and Human Rights, this new practice of faceless kidnapping
coupled with an official position of total unawareness of the victim’s
fate opens once again the painful chapters of war and conflict within
Lebanon. With the presence of Syrian Intelligence Services, Hezbollah, and
many Lebanese Intelligence Services, the apparent acts of innocence and
“good will” portrayed by the Regime and the Judiciary are very hard to
swallow and we find ourselves today lacking in our Security whilst at the
same time suffering military dictatorship...
We are extremely worried that the fate of Mr. Irani
would be similar to the fate of Mr. Boutros Khawand who was abducted in
very similar conditions and disappeared 10 years ago. (Accounts from
released prisoners from Syrian jails confirm that Mr. Khawand was
imprisoned in Syria after being kidnapped by Hezbollah!)”
It is not hard to understand this point of
view when we know some facts. For example:
According to the Lebanese magazine
Monday Morning, in the months
before Irani’s disappearance, men came several times to ask his concierge
about him. Ramzi ended up calling the Lebanese state intelligence services
to inform them about these people, giving them the number of the car they
used (supplied by the concierge) and asked whether it was they who were
keeping him under surveillance. The reply was negative. They promised to
follow up the affair.
Jocelyne Irani (Ramzi’s widow) affirms that on the day
her husband disappeared, a car was parked in front of their house and the
concierge heard someone saying: “It’s five o’clock and he still hasn’t
come back?” The same magazine noted that Irani lived in Bellevue, not far
from the American embassy in Awkar, therefore in an area of high
surveillance where a person is required to pass two checkpoints of the
Lebanese Army before arriving at the Irani home. How was it, then, that
cars belonging to persons unknown were able to pass through the
checkpoints and park in front of the Irani home and question the concierge
without raising suspicion?
3) Questions and
It is noteworthy that both murdered men had
similarities connecting them despite the ideological gap. They were both
in their middle thirties, married, and well settled in life each one with
two children. This kind of comparison was perhaps valueless as long as
they were alive, since nobody would try to play at the game of comparing
the incomparable. But in the light of the tragic events that occurred to
them both, did anybody try to find out whatever might link the two
Let’s imagine the “unimaginable”. If
someone wanted, for some reason, to pick up two similar figures from two
opposite camps in Lebanon, would Ramzi and Jihad fit in or not?
Nonetheless, despite there was a hint that
the murders were connected, emphasized by a clear claim emanating from the
“Movement of Lebanese Nationalists”- as we will see- the Lebanese media
sounded uneasy about this subject.
Maybe is it too little to
say that this double murder – even if the perpetrator is not the same
person- has seethed the Lebanese media to an unprecedented degree, since
the years of the car-bombings during the civil war. The press generally
backed away from speculating who might have killed Ramzi Irani. There is
however an admission that Israel could not be involved in his
assassination, although many parties pointed to the Mossad as the probable
instigator of Jibril’s murder. For several observers, it is Lebanon’s
security that is at stake. Some of them linked the murder of Jibril to the
murder on January 24 of Elie Hobeika.
This is a headache for the Lebanese State
Prosecutor Adnan Addoum who confirmed that a man had been arrested in
connection with Irani’s disappearance.
Irani’s car has already been checked for fingerprints
and DNA tests had been conducted, he said. But the most interesting
declaration he made suggests something quite puzzling.
He said he believed the car
was taken to the place it was found while security personnel were busy
with Jibril’s murder, which rocked the capital on the morning. “It was at
that time that the car was brought out from the place where it was hidden
and disposed of to get rid of it and the body in it,” Addoum said. The
“security committee will meet every day” until a breakthrough is achieved.
How would any objective
observer refrain from filling the unsaid of this declaration with some
questions such as: Why did they bring the car from its hidden place at
that very moment, not before? Was it a simple coincidence? Or did they
mean to attract the attention to this crime, a few hours after the blast
that killed Jibril? And if there was no link, then how to explain the
statement faxed to AFP in Nicosia, emanating from a previously unknown
group, “ the Movement of Lebanese Nationalists”, claiming late Monday the
killing of Jibril whom it accused of operating on Lebanese soil under
Syria’s orders? The statement said: “One of our units has liquidated
Jihad Jibril by detonating his car as he was going out of his secret
Thus, if Jibril’s murder was not
perpetrated by the Israelis, as assumed, and if this Lebanese secret
faction, obviously anti-Syrian (which was also the tide Ramzi Irani was
embracing), has actually committed it, was it a political revenge against
the Syrian presence, or more precisely a revenge against a precise act,
such as for example the kidnapping and the killing of Ramzi Irani? Which
leads us to another hypothesis: The murder of Irani was discovered and
known well before his car was being brought to the vicinity of Tahiti
Tower! And those who were the first to discover it were also those who
murdered Jibril, then got Irani’s car out from its hidden place!
Indeed this is just an assumption. And such
as, it neither justifies the first murder nor the second while trying to
find an explanation to them. That does not mean either that Jihad Jibril
has necessarily personally masterminded the kidnapping and the
assassination of Ramzi Irani. But the fact that he could be actually a
mere scapegoat, in a broader game between some Lebanese factions and
Syria, cannot be easily dismissed. The same thing could be said also about
Ramzi Irani, who was not really “high” in his party’s hierarchy. But it
seems that he was the “ideal victim” in a game that obviously
outmaneuvered him. Let’s notice however that his case (coupled with that
of Jibril) has since the discovery of the corpse, mobilized the Lebanese
Cabinet. The President of the Republic himself expressed his concern.
Ultimately, we do not need even to probe a
possible connection between the two murdered men. They did not need to
know each other, in order to get in that tragic frame, albeit they likely
did. For both of them were activists, busy with militant commotion. And at
that level, all those who are more or less involved in the internal and
regional struggle, either they are on the Syrian side or on the opposite,
have usually some knowledge of the who’s who in the other camp, if they
are not merely connected by some twisted and complicated Middle-East ways
of contact, indeed without ever ceasing to be enemies.
Noteworthy is also the Israeli attitude
vis-à-vis this case. Since the first day, the Israeli officials rejected
the accusation about Jibril’s murder related to them as gibberish. “ The
defense minister says Israel is not connected and to stop blaming Israel”,
said Yarden Vaticay, an adviser to Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben
Eliezer. For his part, Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nachshon
dismissed the accusations as “utter nonsense”.
This is quite an amazing position! For so
far, the Israelis have not only taken pride in assassinating some
prominent Palestinian activists, but they have even adopted the “ targeted
killings” as a State policy under the current government of Ariel Sharon.
So, why did they deny any connection with Jibril’s murder if they were
really behind it? They would have been even proud to claim it, as they did
with previous similar cases of murdered Palestinian militants. But that
did not happen, and it is definitely improbable that the Israelis did it
then backed away from fear of revenge. They simply never denied to have
assassinated other Palestinian activists. Why should they make exclusion
for Jibril whereas they have an occasion to exasperate the Palestinians?
The case is enough expressive of an
idiosyncratic behaviour. It shows that whether Israel is guilty or not, it
is easy after achieving a dirty job, to throw it on the Israelis. That
does not completely rule out any Israeli involvement, to be sure, neither
does it justify the Israeli crimes, whether acknowledged or not. Yet, we
ought to recall that what the individuals and the little groups achieve at
their level, some states may perform on a broad scale. This said, it is
not amazing that Ahmad Jibril threw the responsibility of his son’s
assassination on the Jordanians as well as the Israelis: “ We say it is
the Israelis who carried out the assassination of Jihad, but there are
local collaborators who facilitated the enemy’s task”, declared the leader
of the PFLP-GC. “The Israeli enemy’s intelligence relies on US and
Jordanian intelligence”, added he, “ and the three closely coordinate
their activities, forming an evil trio which managed to harm us.”
Amman indeed denied any involvement,
rejecting Jibril’s allegations as completely groundless. But though nobody
hinted at this, the Syrian mark is quite obvious in the aforementioned
declaration. Damascus has never hidden its animosity towards the Jordanian
regime, particularly after it signed a peace accord with Israel. It never
missed an occasion also to underline its own position as the most
reasonable – anyway as more reasonable than the Jordanian- as regards the
attitude vis-à-vis Israel. It is in the name of the solidarity between the
Arabs – lifted to the level of moral duty- that Damascus is maintaining
its military presence in Lebanon, albeit its 30.000 soldiers have never
raised a little finger to fight Israel, even when the latter was occupying
south Lebanon… even when several times its troops or its aircraft pushed
the borders until Beirut!
And this is precisely the point wherein all
the roads converge in the present situation concerning the Lebanese shaky
security. Furthermore, if the two murders had to have a political
signification, can we reasonably oust Syria from the picture whereas it is
about Syria that the struggle is going on in Lebanon between different
factions and protagonists? This is not to mean necessarily that Syria was
the instigator – it is the judiciary investigation that will answer these
questions, if ever it succeeds! -, but only to underline the fact that
their heavily felt presence in Lebanon make of the Syrians a suspect in
the eyes of many Lebanese.
 The Daily
Star: May 21, 2002. See also: BBC News Online: 20 May. Suspects
behind Beirut bomb.
 Lebanese Information Center:
October 29, 2000.
Monday Morning: Anguish and hope for
Ramzi Irani. May 20.
The Daily Star: May 23.
Arabia.com: May 21. Lebanon in fear.
Hichem Karoui is a writer and journalist living in Paris, France.
by courtesy & © 2002 Hichem Karoui
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