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Former member of Israel-backed militia killed in Lebanon

A U.S. Marine Corps V-22 Osprey is seen taking off from the U.S. Embassy in Aukar, northeast of Beirut, on Thursday, March 19, 2020. The tiltrotor aircraft took off a few hours before a U.S. senator announced that Lebanese-American Amer Fakhoury, who had faced decades-old murder and torture charges in Lebanon, was freed from a prison in Lebanon.

ZEINA KARAM/AP

By BASSEM MROUE | Associated Press | Published: March 22, 2020

BEIRUT — Unknown assailants shot dead a former member of an Israeli-backed Lebanese militia on Sunday, security officials said. The killing came three days after a jailed Lebanese-American man who belonged to the same militia was released in Beirut and was flown to the U.S.

Two Lebanese security officials said Antoine Hayek was killed with several bullets from a pistol equipped with a silencer inside his grocery store in the southern village of Mieh Mieh, near the port city of Sidon. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

According to Lebanese media, Hayek had been a warden at a prison run by the South Lebanon Army militia during Israel’s 18-year occupation of southern Lebanon, which ended in 2000.

The Lebanese-American man, Amer Fakhoury, had been jailed in Lebanon since September and charged with murder and with torturing prisoners at the same SLA-run prison — charges he denied. A Lebanese judge ordered him released last week, saying more than 10 years had passed since the suspected crimes.

U.S. officials confirmed Fakhoury was aboard a U.S. Marine Corps V-22 Osprey seen taking off from the U.S. Embassy compound northeast of Beirut on Thursday.

Fakhoury’s case significantly strained the already-troubled ties between the U.S. and Lebanon.

Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the powerful Hezbollah militant group, called Fakhoury’s release and exit from Lebanon a “blatant violation” of the country’s sovereignty and laws. Lawmakers from Fakhoury’s home state of New Hampshire had called for imposing sanctions on Lebanon to pressure Beirut to release him.

Local media outlets reported that Hayek had been close to Fakhoury. Hayek, 58, a retired policeman, also reportedly worked as a warden at the SLA-run Khiam prison during Israel’s occupation.

Human rights groups have described the prison as a center for torture.

Lebanon’s intelligence service said Fakhoury confessed during questioning to being a warden there.

Fakhoury’s family in the U.S. and lawyer, however, said that although he was a SLA member, he had no direct contact with inmates and never was involved in any interrogation or torture. Fakhoury became a U.S. citizen last year.

Hundreds of SLA members fled to Israel, including Fakhoury, fearing reprisals if they remained in Lebanon. Others stayed and faced trial, receiving lenient sentences.

Hayek was one of those who stayed in Lebanon and was sentenced to 18 months in jail.

No one claimed responsibility for Hayek’s shooting.

Hasan Hijazi, a former inmate at Khiam prison, tweeted Sunday about his experience there. He said Hayek would flog prisoners with a whip and “turn detainees into a punching bag, and beat and kick them.”

Lebanon and Israel have been officially at war since Israel’s creation in 1948. Lebanon bans its citizens from traveling to Israel or having contact with Israelis.

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