BEIRUT — Security forces found Friday the SUV of Sheikh Ahmad Rifai, who has been missing since Monday, near Koura's Haikal Hospital, an ISF source told L'Orient Today.
L'Orient-Le Jour's correspondent in the area reported that security forces have put up a security cordon around the vehicle and are searching it for clues. A photo of the SUV shows that its license plates have been removed.
Shortly before the discovery of the missing sheikh's car, a committee following the Rifai case called on security forces to "issue public statements" clarifying whether or not they detained Rifai. The committee also called on caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati to "personally and quickly intervene and follow up on the subject with security forces and work on ending this file in a way that secures the safety of Sheik Ahmad and gets him back safely."
After meeting Mikati on Friday, a delegation from Dar al-Fatwa stated that it "urges everyone to be ready to protest and to do what is necessary when needed."
Known for his confrontational stance toward Hezbollah and Lebanon's other pro-Iranian groups, Rifai is originally from the village of Karkaf in Akkar, northern Lebanon. The sheikh was last seen in Tripoli Monday evening.
Rifai is the imam at the Grand Mosque Ahmad Rifai in Karkaf and is known for his social media criticism of the Mumana' — the pro-Iran political axis that includes Hezbollah. According to press reports, Rifai's latest prayer sermon addressed drug trafficking in areas under Hezbollah's influence.
The Sheikh's brother Ibrahim Rifai told L'Orient-Le Jour Thursday that Ahmad left Karkaf by car on Monday and performed the evening prayer in the al-Baraka mosque in Beddaoui, Tripoli. He then headed to al-Mina around 7 pm, before disappearing in the vicinity of the Beirut Arab University's Tripoli branch.
Akkar's mufti Zayd Zakaria held an emergency meeting Tuesday in the presence of the region's Sunni MPs Mohammad Yahia and Mohammad Sleiman. Leaders of the region's various religious faiths were also present at the meeting, according to the state-run National News Agency.
Those present at the meeting contacted Lebanon's Grand Mufti, Abdellatif Derian, who affirmed that he will "follow up on the case himself with the security forces."
Demonstrators blocked the main road to Mouhammara at the southern entrance to Akkar Tuesday, demanding that authorities work quickly to find the missing sheikh.
Additional reporting Michel Hallak