Lebanese protest over prison death

After overnight riots, thousands of Lebanese have staged a protest over the death in custody of a suspected al-Qaida leader.

    Ismail Muhammad al-Khatib died on Monday while in custody

    On Tuesday, protesters in Majdal Anjar, a town on the border with Syria, called for the resignation of Interior Minister Elias Murr and for an independent legal and medical inquiry into the death of Lebanese Ismail Muhammad al-Khatib.

    Al-Khatib, described by Lebanese authorities as the top operative in Lebanon of Usama bin Ladin's al-Qaida network, was among ten people detained last week over alleged plans to blow up the Italian embassy in Beirut.

    He died on Monday after suffering what the Lebanese security services said was a "massive heart attack".

    When news of his death reached his hometown of Majdal Anjar in the eastern Bekaa valley, protesters took to the streets, hurling stones and bottles at Lebanese border checkpoints.


    On Tuesday, residents and clergymen gathered in and around the Bilal bin Rabah mosque in central Majdal Anjar near the Masnaa border point leading into Syria.

    Protesters are calling for Elias
    Murr's resignation

    The protesters, many carrying sticks and knives, shouted slogans against "the United States and its allies in Lebanon" who arrested al-Khatib.

    "Abu Ghraib prison has moved to Lebanon," said one banner, referring to the notorious US-controlled prison near Baghdad where cases of sexual and physical abuse of Iraqi prisoners emerged last year.

    "Lebanon's Falluja refuses humiliation," said another, referring to the Sunni bastion west of Baghdad where a fierce battle against US-led forces continues.

    State services

    Shaikh Khalil al-Mayss, the mufti of the Bekaa valley who has cast doubt on the state version of the link between those arrested and al-Qaida, said the protesters were awaiting the arrival of al-Khatib's body at the mosque.

    The Masnaa border crossing was
    the scene of mass protests 

    "But the family refuses to take the body without a proper investigation to know the real truth," he said.

    Residents of Majdal Anjar issued a statement saying: "We demand the resignation of the interior minister who is fully responsible and we demand the release of all other detainees."

    Ahmad al-Khatib, the cousin of the dead man, denounced the overnight riots which he said were "not carried out by us, but by state services in order to deprive us of our rights and tarnish the reputation of Majdal Anjar."



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