BEIRUT — North Lebanon's first investigating judge, Samaranda Nassar, issued an indictment on Thursday in the case of the February kidnapping and murder of Akkar religious Sheikh Ahmad Rifai, the state-run National News Agency reported.
Rifai had allegedly been found dead and buried in Akkar after kidnappers murdered him a week earlier, over a family dispute. Karkaf mayor Yehya Abdel Karim Rifai, suspected of masterminding the murder, had been arrested and dismissed from his position as vice-president of the Union of Akkar Municipalities following the killing.
Six defendants were named by the magistrate on Thursday: Yehya Abdel Karim Rifai (the main suspect), Ali Yehya Rifai, Yehya Mohammad Rifai, Abdel Karim Mohammad Rifai, Ahmad Mohammad Rifai, who have already been arrested, as well as Moustapha Ghazi Mikati. Nassar has reportedly asked for them to be brought before the competent judicial authorities, with the exception of Mikati, "for lack of sufficient evidence."
Ahmad Rifai was known for his anti-Hezbollah stance and his opposition to Iranian influence in Lebanon. Hezbollah denied involvement in the murder after several prominent figures accused the party of being responsible.
According to the indictment published on Thursday, the sheikh's brother had reported his disappearance to the Berkayel police station in Akkar on Feb. 21. Ahmad Rifai had not been heard from since the previous day when he left his home in Karkaf for Tripoli. Intelligence services had then found his vehicle in Ras Maska, North Lebanon, recalls the text.
The indictment also reveals that Ali Rifai, the son of the Karkaf mayor and main suspect, agreed with his father to set a trap for the sheikh.
Two months before the crime, Ali bought two cell phones, according to NNA. A month before the kidnapping, he contacted the sheikh, posing as a woman in need of help and arranged to meet him in Tripoli, near the Arab University.
On Feb. 19, Ali and his cousins Ahmad, Yehya and Abdel Karim, all dressed in military fatigues, kidnapped the sheikh as he arrived for the appointment. They then beat him over the head with a rifle, before putting him in the boot of a black Kia car.
According to the indictment, Ali Rifai then killed the sheikh in the locality of Maarad, shooting him once in the chest and once in the head, while he was still in the trunk. The body was then buried in a three-meter-deep pit dug earlier in the Saddat al-Bared rubbish dump by Ali and his cousin Ahmad Mohammad Rifai.
The disappearance of Rifai, whose last sermons reportedly dealt with drug trafficking in regions under Hezbollah influence, had raised fears of sectarian tensions in the country.
Residents of the village of Karkaf had blocked roads in Akkar on several occasions, calling for the fate of the missing sheikh to be clarified.