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LEBANON: Authorities under scrutiny after mob lynches Egyptian murder suspect

April 30, 2010 |  9:04 am

Lebanon is reeling from the shock of five brutal killings, four of which targeted members of the same family and the fifth that of the Egyptian man suspected of their murders.

He was dragged from police custody, beaten to death and lynched by an angry vigilante mob Thursday in the small mountain town of Ketermaya.

Graphic footage and video of the murder suspect's lynching (way too graphic to be posted here) began circulating immediately, leading many to criticize the breakdown of law and order.

The suspect, Mohammad Salim Mssalem, was arrested after the fatal stabbing on Wednesday of Youssef Abu Merhi, his wife Kawthar and their two granddaughters Amina, 7, and Zeina, 9. 

Mssalem was reportedly reenacting the murders for investigators at the scene of the crime when an angry mob overpowered the security officers, dragging the suspect into the streets and beating him severely. The officers were able to retrieve the badly wounded Mssalem and get him to a hospital, but angry residents stormed the hospital as well, beat him to death, stripped his body and hung it from a telephone pole as onlookers shouted for vengeance.

"I fear that because this man was an Egyptian, so he has no one to back him up," Omar Nashabe, justice editor of the Lebanese daily Al Akhbar, told Babylon & Beyond."They took advantage of the situation and acted in this barbaric and inhuman way that will destroy the reputation of this country and undermines the government."

Many aspects of the original investigation are now being called into question, including the decision to leak incendiary details to the press and the speed with which DNA evidence confirming Mssalem's guilt was released following the lynching.

"A source within the judicial police told us yesterday that the results would be ready Friday night or Saturday morning at the latest," said Nashabe. "So it was very strange to receive a phone call about it at 8 this morning,"

The town's mayor, Mohammad Naguib Hassan, told Al Akhbar that the investigating authorities are to blame for transferring the suspect back to the scene of the crime, which was bound to inflame the passions of the victim's family and local residents.

Conflicting reports have emerged regarding Mssalem's background and history. The National News Agency reported that Mssalem was wanted for crimes in Egypt. Al Akhbar has reported that Mssalem worked at a local slaughterhouse and that his mother is married to a Ketermaya resident. According to local media, Mssalem had been accused of rape several months ago, although the outcome of those charges remain unexplained.

Internal Security Force chief Gen. Ashraf Rifi reportedly took disciplinary measures against several  security officers involved for “making a grave error in the judgment of the field situation and for failing to ensure the protection of the murder suspect." Justice Minister Ibrahim Najjar and Interior Minister Ziad Baroud both condemned the killing and called for an investigation.

Los Angeles Times

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