Michel Samaha, a former Lebanese government minister with close ties to Syrian President Bashar Assad was detained near Beirut on Thursday for questioning over what the Lebanese prime minister described as security-related matters.
His arrest was connected to a seizure of explosives that were to have been used mostly in northern Lebanon, a region of tensions linked to the conflict in neighboring Syria, a senior official told AFP.
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"The accusations against Samaha are related to explosives, which were going to be placed in several parts of the country, especially the north," he said on condition of anonymity.
The official declined to elaborate on the alleged link between the former minister and the explosives, but said the material was not seized from Samaha's home where the arrest was carried out.
Security forces in Samaha's building (Photo: AFP)
Samaha was taken into custody in the early hours. There were no official details of what he was being questioned about. His supporters said his detention was political, asking why he had been detained in the middle of the night.
Elias Aoun, head of the Lebanese journalists' union, said Prime Minister Najib Mikati had told him Samaha had been held following an order from the acting public prosecutor.
Investigators had confiscated "three or four telephones, a laptop and two or three films" while searching his house in the town of Metn northeast of Beirut, Malek al-Sayyed, a lawyer for Samaha, told al-Manar TV.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati, meanwhile, told reporters there was no link between Samaha's arrest and the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, set up to investigate the 2005 murder of former premier Rafiq Hariri.
Samaha has been an outspoken supporter of Assad during the 17-month-old uprising against his rule, echoing an official Syrian narrative that portrays the anti-Assad opposition as terrorists.
He served as a minister in three Lebanese governments between 1992 and 2004 - a period when Syria dominated politics and security in its smaller neighbour. Samaha is also a former member of parliament.
In 2007, he was named on a White House-issued list of Lebanese and Syrian figures suspected of working to undermine Lebanon's stability and the Western-backed Beirut government in office at the time.
The list included Assef Shawkat, a senior Syrian security official and Assad's brother-in-law, who was killed in a bomb blast in Damascus last month.
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