The Friday arrest of William Noun, whose brother Joe died in the Beirut port explosion on Aug. 4, 2020, brought contrasting reactions on Saturday from various political groups.
The Free Patriotic Movement, to which State Security's head Tony Saliba is close, the same security body that had Noun arrested, called on the victims' relatives not to direct their anger toward Saliba, while the Kataeb party pointed the finger at the influence of Hezbollah in this case.
State Security arrested Noun on Friday for investigation after he made remarks on Thursday night during a television talk show in which he threatened to "blow up the Justice Palace" in Beirut. Noun has now been released on a house arrest bond and has left the Ramlet al-Baida barracks.
While some observers have pointed to an initiating role from Tony Saliba in the arrest, a security source rejected this reading. "It was Judge Zaher Hamadeh who charged the state security with this mission," the security source told L'Orient-Le Jour.
"He could have designated another device that would have acted in the same way," the source said. Saliba, who was reappointed last March, is suspected of dereliction of duty and is facing prosecution in the investigation into the Aug. 4 port explosion. Judge Hamadeh, for his part, is considered close to the Amal Movement led by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.
Two deputies and former ministers — Amal members Ali Hassan Khalil, who is Berri's right-hand, and Ghazi Zeaiter — are being sued by lead investigator into the explosion Judge Tarek Bitar. Khalil and Zeaiter have filed requests to remove Bitar from the case, blocking the investigation for months.
As for the FPM, it has exhibited support for Tony Saliba. When contacted by L'Orient-Le Jour, Jimmy Jabbour, MP for Akkar, North Lebanon, said that Saliba "is only carrying out an order issued by the judiciary."
"The security apparatus is not militias that execute political agendas," Jabbour added, calling on the victims' relatives to "focus their battle against those who are blocking the investigation of the port."
Puppet judges versus patriotic judges
In a tweet on Saturday, FPM leader Gebran Bassil said, "No matter how arrogant you are, you will not be able to stop justice."
"We will continue to fight to uncover the truth about the port, and to release those who were unjustly arrested," he said. "You can manipulate some puppet judges, but Lebanon will always have disobedient patriotic judges."
Noun's arrest came at a time when relations between Hezbollah — which has repeatedly attacked Judge Bitar — and the FPM are at a particularly lowest ebb. "In this case, we have no allies," said Jabbour. "We are against the detention of William Noun and want to know the truth about the port explosion."
On the other side of the spectrum, Kataeb leader Samy Gemayel believes that Noun's arrest was part of a "plan to close the port dossier and silence the victims' relatives."
"This is a battle that we will fight till the end. Especially since we lost several relatives killed in the explosion," said the Metn MP told L'Orient-Le Jour, pointing his finger at the influence of Hezbollah in this development and accusing some media outlets close to this party, including the daily Al Akhbar, of campaigning against the victims' relatives.