Posts filed under 'Lebanon'

1986: Alec Collett, Lebanon hostage

Add comment April 16th, 2017 Headsman

On (or very near) this date in 1986, Palestinian terrorist Abu Nidal had British hostage Alec Collett hanged in revenge for the previous day’s U.S. bombing of Tripoli.

Collett, a journalist and U.N. aid worker, had been abducted in Beirut more than a year earlier.

Abu Nidal, his captor, was the brand-name terrorist of his era. Indeed, his own name was a brand: Sabri Khalil al-Banna was the name he was born into, in a wealthy Palestinian family driven to dispossession and refugee camps by the Nakba. It was the Abu Nidal organization‘s assassination attempt on Israeli diplomat Shlomo Argov that triggered Israel’s counterproductive 1982 invasion of Lebanon, perhaps (for its long-term consequences) the crowning achievement of Abu Nidal’s career.*

This very conflict brought Collett to Beirut, as an aid worker for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

Stopped at a militia checkpoint on March 25, 1985 where he might have been taken because of an Israeli-stamped passport, Collett became one of about 100 foreigners seized as hostages by various factions over the long course of the Lebanese conflagration.

Only a few of these hostages died in their captors’ hands; they were in the main prisoners for leverage, and so efficaciously did they lever that it was these very souls that Ronald Reagan‘s U.S. administration proposed to retrieve by purchasing the (officially enemy) influence of Iran in the Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scandal.

Confusingly shifting factional advantage has tangled Middle East politics for many a year, to be sure, and here the prospect of a negotiated release was aborted by the April 5, 1986 terrorist bombing of a Berlin discotheque frequented by U.S. soldiers — two of whom died in the blast.

This outrage proved to be the project of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, who then stood in a very tense position vis-a-vis the West. Ten days after the disco attack, Reagan responded with an air raid on Libya clearly intended to assassinate Gaddafi — who fled his compound moments before it was crushed by a fleet of 2,000-pound bombs. (The bombing might or might not have slain the dictator’s infant daughter.)

This attack on Gaddafi was also an attack on that arch-terrorist Abu Nidal, whom Gaddafi had recently taken in after a former patron Saddam Hussein made a bid for respectability by expelling him from Iraq.** And it so happened that Collett’s unoffending person offered Abu Nidal the most immediate vehicle for retaliation.

It’s not completely certain that April 16 was the date of Collett’s murder, though there is no real reason to doubt his executioners’ claim on this point. The matter was confused at the time because three other dead westerners discovered on April 17 were initially reported to include Collett among their number — a claim subsequently debunked. On April 23, Collett’s captors released a grainy video of their masked prisoner being hanged;† however, the identification of the noosed man was still questioned for many years. Collett’s remains — confirmed by DNA testing — were only discovered in 2009.

The anniversary of Collet’s initial abduction, March 25, is kept annually by the United Nations as International Day of Solidarity with Detained and Missing Staff Members.

* Israel withdrew from the bloody morass three years later, having displaced the Palestinian Liberation Organization for a much more effective new resistance movement in Hezbollah. Decades later, Osama bin Laden would cite Lebanon as the event that “gave birth to a strong resolve to punish the oppressors,” including the sight of “demolished towers in Lebanon” to inspire a bit of tower-toppling of his own.

** Abu Nidal had only recently on Gaddafi’s behalf hijacked an EgyptAir flight, killing dozens.

† I have thus far not been able to locate this video online.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Cycle of Violence,Execution,Hanged,History,Hostages,Lebanon,Libya,No Formal Charge,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

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1949: Antoun Saadeh

1 comment July 8th, 2015 Headsman

On this date in 1949, Lebanese writer and political leader Antoun Saadeh was shot following a failed coup by his Syrian Social Nationalist Party.

Born to a globetrotting journalist, the young polyglot Saadeh was living abroad in Brazil when his native Lebanon fell from the collapsing Ottoman Empire into French hands.

He returned in 1930 to Lebanon an irredentist on the make and churned out a prodigious literary output: fiction, newspaper stories, political pamphlets.

It was his vision for a “Greater Syria” that would define the man’s legacy, and cause his death. In 1932 he secretly founded the Syrian Social Nationalist Party to advocate for a vast Syrian state encompassing what now comprise Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel/Palestine. At its most ambitious this prospective state dreamt itself inscribed upon the whole Fertile Crescent from the Tauras Mountains to the Persian Gulf.

The SSNP still exists in Syria and Lebanon to this day, but it was a big cheese in the French Mandate by the late 1930s — when the imminent end of colonialism put the future shape of the entire region into question. Saadeh, harried by French authorities who had clapped him in prison a couple of times, emigrated to Argentina and carried on the struggle through exile publications.

In 1947, Saadeh returned to a rapturous reception in now-independent Lebanon:

But his pan-Syria idea was distinctly at odds with what had happened on the ground. Whatever the colonial roots of the borders that had been set down, they defined not only zones on a map but elites with an interest in their maintenance. Lebanon’s founding “National Pact” arrangement among Christians and Muslims also committed all involved to Lebanon as an independent state not to merge with Syria.

So despite (or rather because of) Saadeh’s popularity, the SSNP faced renewed crackdowns in 1948. Revolutionaries, reformers, and pan-Arabist types were surging throughout the region thanks to the distressingly shabby performance of Arab armies in their 1948 war to strangle Israel in its crib. (Lebanon fielded only a tiny force in this fight which also won no laurels; instead, Israel began its long tradition of occupying southern Lebanon.) Saadeh was certainly alarmed by the birth of a Zionist state so inimical to his own programme; “Our struggle with the enemy is not a struggle for borders but for existence,” he declared in 1948.

On July 4, 1949, the SSNP put its muscle to the test by attempting to seize state power in Lebanon — and disastrously failed. Saadeh had traveled to Damascus hoping to gain the support of the Syrian military dictator Husni al-Za’im;* instead, al-Za’im simply handed Saadeh right back to Lebanese authorities who had him tried in secret and swiftly executed.

* A gentleman who would himself be overthrown and executed just a few weeks hence.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,History,Intellectuals,Lebanon,Martyrs,Politicians,Power,Revolutionaries,Shot,Syria,Treason

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1990: The October 13 Massacre

Add comment October 13th, 2014 Headsman

This date is the dolorous anniversary of the “October 13 massacre”, a bloodbath wrapping up the Lebanese Civil War when the Syrian army executed hundreds of captured Lebanese.

The intractable war, which dated back to 1975 and made “Beirut” a 1980s watchword for conflict, had boiled down* to two rival governments: a Maronite military government based in East Beirut under the leadership of Michel Aoun, and the Syrian-sponsored Muslim government in West Beirut putatively headed by Selim al-Hoss. Over the course of 1989-1990 Aoun’s “war of liberation” against the occupying Syrian army all but emptied the city of Beirut.

Thanks to a complex political schism, Aoun was also ensconced in the city’s presidential palace from which he issued decrees denouncing and rejecting the political settlement that was supposed to return the country to normalcy.

Unfortunately for him — and moreso for the prisoners who are the day’s topic — Aoun was also supported by Iraq’s dictator Saddam Hussein. In August 1990, Hussein invaded Kuwait, precipitating an American attack on Iraq in response.

As this latter operation involved the U.S. attacking a Muslim oil-producing state with military resources it deployed for that purpose the politically sensitive sands of a neighboring Muslim oil-producing state, the U.S. spent the last months of 1990 working the Middle East diplomatic circuit to bring the region’s governments on board for the impending bout of ultraviolence.

Syria’s particular carrot was the green light to finish off Aoun — who, simultaneously, had of course been deprived of aid from the now-preoccupied Iraqis. This the Syrian army did with a massive attack on Beirut’s presidential palace beginning at seven in the morning on October 13th. The palace was overcome by 10:00 a.m., but resistance continued elsewhere throughout the day from pro-Aoun militias who had not received word of that gentleman’s surrender and escape to the French embassy.**

Several hundred people were killed during the onslaught into pro-Aoun enclaves. An unknown number of these ballparked to around two or three hundred are thought to have been killed by summary execution after capture (or after intentional rounding-up). A Lebanese nurse claimed that at the nearby village of Dahr al-Wahsh “I counted between 75 and 80 [executed] … Most of them had a bullet in the back of their heads or in their mouth. The corpses still carried the mark of cords around their wrists.” Other captured Lebanese fighters were reportedly deported to Syria and never heard from again.

There are several other atrocity accounts collected here. This two-part documentary on the end of the Lebanese civil war available on YouTube has several participants’ perspectives (including Aoun’s) on the chaotic situation marking the war’s last days: 1, 2.

* This is quite a gross oversimplification of a fractious civil conflict in which innumerable blocs continually rearranged their alliances.

“I had a chart on my wall of the constantly proliferating militias — four dozen or so by the time I left in 1985 — and their constantly shifting alliances and enmities,” one former Beirut denizen wrote recently. “Allies one day could be trying to kill one another the next, even within sects, over issues that had digressed far from their common cause.”

** Aoun went into exile in France, returning in 2005 when the Cedar Revolution finally drove the still-occupying Syrians out of Lebanon. He has served in the Lebanese parliament since that time, leading the country’s largest Christian party.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Disfavored Minorities,Execution,History,Known But To God,Lebanon,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Shot,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Syria,Wartime Executions

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Feast Day of St. Jude

Add comment October 28th, 2012 Headsman

This is the feast date (in Christianity’s western tradition) of Saint Jude.

Possibly one of the bit players among Jesus’s original 12 apostles — “Jude”/”Judah”/”Judas” was a common name among first-century Israelites, so there’s some confusion about the identities among various texts talking about various (?) Judes — St. Jude is aptly-for-this-blog considered the patron saint of “lost causes” or “situations despaired of”.

He’s traditionally supposed to have knocked around the eastern Mediterranean after the Nazarene‘s crucifixion, introducing Christianity (along with St. Bartholomew) to Armenia, which eventually became the first officially Christian kingdom. (Jude is also a patron saint of Armenia; his other patronage gigs include the Philippines, the Chicago Police Department, a a Brazilian football club, and countless hospitals.)

Despite making so many sad songs better, Jude was eventually martyred, possibly in Armenia, allegedly by halberd; as a consequence, that sinuous poleaxe is Jude’s iconographic symbol on the relatively rare occasions when he’s artistically depicted. It’s also something you can buy in pendant form: come on … embrace The Halberd. But again, there are different versions as to who martyred Jude and where, and considerable confusion over how many Judes those versions might be conflating.

At any rate, for those up against the executioner and despairing of any but the most improbable deliverance, St. Jude is your man.

There’s even St. Jude software which prevents execution … of rootkit exploits.

I, Francis Steinernherz, will be the first noble of my profession, where I shall have despatched one more knight of the Empire.”

“Thou hast been ever in my service, hast thou not?” demanded De Hagenbach.

“Under what other master,” replied the executioner, “could I have enjoyed such constant practice? I have executed your decrees on condemned sinners since I could swing a scourge, lift a crow-bar, or wield this trusty weapon; and who can say I even failed of my first blow, or needed to deal a second? The term of the Hospital, and his famous assistants, Petit Andre, and Trois Eschelles, are novices compared with me in the use of the noble and knightly sword. Marry, I should be ashamed to match myself with them in the field practice with bowstring and dagger, these are no feats worthy of a Christian man who would rise to honor and nobility.”

“Thou art a fellow of excellent address, and I do not deny it,” replied De Hagenbach. “But it cannot be — I trust it can — not be — that when noble blood is becoming scarce in the land, and proud churls are lording it over knights and barons, I myself should have caused so much to be spilled?”

“I will number the patients to your excellency by name and title,” said Francis, drawing out a scroll of parchment, and reading with a commentary as he went on, — ” There was Count William of Elvershoe — he was my assay-piece, a sweet youth, and died most like a Christian.”

“I remember — he was indeed a most smart youth, and courted my mistress,” said Sir Archibald.

“He died on St. Jude’s, in the year of grace 1455,” said the executioner.

-Sir Walter Scott, Anne of Geierstein

On this day..

Entry Filed under: Ancient,Execution,God,History,Lebanon,Martyrs,Put to the Sword,Religious Figures,Roman Empire,Uncertain Dates

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1998: Wissam Issa and Hassan Abu Jabal

Add comment May 19th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1998,* Wissam Issa and Hassan Jabal were shockingly hanged in public in Tabarja, Lebanon.

Executions hadn’t seen the outside of prison walls in that country for 15 years at that time — back when there was a civil war on.

But Issa and Jabal were condemned for a home burgling attempt gone wrong(er): when the owners unexpectedly returned, Issa fled — but Jabal gunned them down. They both answered for the murders.

Marched out onto a somewhat jerry-built hanging platform (Issa was stoic; Jabal, unmanned), the two died at dawn before a crowd of 1,500 to 2,000 spectators … and plenty of cameras. The grisly proceedings made the nightly news, of course.

“It was horrible,” one Tabarja woman remembered. “The kids were playing at hanging each other afterwards at school.”

Oddly enough, it was also the last hanging (private or public) for over five more years to come. Later in 1998, a staunch death penalty foe became Prime Minister, and refused to approve any execution warrants.

* Reports of May 25 instead of May 19 are out there, but that’s easily disproven by, e.g., this Robert Fisk dispatch on the hanging which saw print on May 21, 1998.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Lebanon,Mature Content,Murder,Public Executions

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1916: Joseph Hani, abandoned

Add comment April 5th, 2012 Headsman

“Mr Joseph Hani was hanged for treason in the Burj at 5 a.m. At 8 a.m. 40 families deported.

-Diary of Mrs. Harry Dorman, April 5, 1916*

The unfortunate Joseph Hani — Yusuf al-Hani — was among the worthies of Beirut’s Maronite Christian community to petition the French consulate for western aid in detaching Lebanon from the Ottoman Empire.

With the development of World War I, the French ambassador Francois Georges-Picot abandoned the embassy … without removing or destroying this sort of incriminating correspondence. As a result, the Turks ransacked the embassy and identified several dozen of reproachable loyalty to the Porte to put to death.

May 6 — Martyrs’ Day — honors these victims, but Hani was among the very first of them.

While most of the other Maronite signers were able to fly, Hani stuck around to face the music. A British agent was able to contact the implicated characters in Aley Prison, and received the plaintive answer,

‘Where are the English? Where are the French? Why are we left like this?’

* I believe an ancestor of the current president of the American University of Beirut, Peter Dorman. The source of the diary citation is Nicholas Z. Ajay Jr.’s “Political Intrigue and Suppression in Lebanon during World War I” in International Journal of Middle East Studies, Apr., 1974.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,France,Hanged,History,Lebanon,Martyrs,Notable Sleuthing,Ottoman Empire,Power,Public Executions,Separatists,Treason,Wartime Executions

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1915: Eleven Arab nationalists

1 comment August 21st, 2009 Headsman

On August 21, 1915, the Turkish governor of Syria had 11 Arab nationalists publicly hanged in Beirut for seditious contacts with the French.

A larger and more famous batch would follow these the next year, like today’s victims the fruit of the French consul‘s leaving an incriminating list of potential allies in its embassy when it bugged out.

According to Charles Winslow,

[i]n all, fifty-eight individuals were tried and sentenced to death; forty-five of these were either out of the country or avoided arrest; two were given reprieves; and the other eleven, ten Muslims and one Christian, were disgracefully hanged. This public display of terror was only a prelude to additional steps taken as part of the wartime policy of repression…

Lightly defended, Jemal argued that he had no means other than those of terror to hold the area. He claimed that the executions had, in fact, forestalled a rising in Syria. Others, however … see Jemal’s actions in Syria as turning the tide against Istanbul, “causing the Arab Muslims in the area to make up their minds once and for all to break away from the Turkish Empire.” Jemal had perpetrated a “Remember-the-Alamo” for the Lebanese. Throughout the country, the story of his perfidy was passed from person to person and from village to village … One can hardly measure the significance of these hangings in stimulating people to abandon their Ottoman attachment.

By the next year, Arabs had risen in revolt, in alliance — as Pasha had feared — with the Triple Entente.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Lebanon,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Ottoman Empire,Power,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Separatists,Treason,Wartime Executions

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1916: Syrian and Lebanese nationalists, who christen “Martyr’s Day”

5 comments May 6th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1916, a landmark and a holiday — and a founding story of national betrayal — were born with the Ottoman Empire’s hanging separatist nationalists simultaneously in Damascus and Beirut.

The lightning-rod British journalist Robert Fisk has referenced this event numerous times. Here’s his description, focusing on the Beirut location:

Prior to the First World War, 33 Arabs in what is now Lebanon and was then Syria had appealed to the French consul in Beirut to help them to gain independence from the Turks – or at least offer French protection.

The letters — from both Muslims and Christians, one from a Palestinian and another from a senior officer in the Ottoman army — were written in secret and duly reached the consul. But when France broke off relations with the Sublime Porte on the outbreak of war, the diplomat — rather than pack those subversive letters off to his new residence in Egypt — hid them in the abandoned consulate.

And so it came to pass that the local French-language interpreter at the consulate, imprisoned in Damascus, sought to gain his freedom with Ahmed Jemal Pasha, commander of the Turkish Fourth Army in Syria, by betraying to him the exact location where the consul had hidden the documents. Ottoman security agents then broke into the consulate — which was supposed to be under the protection of the still-neutral United States — and found the incriminating letters. Jemal Pasha’s fury was now directed against these treacherous letter writers with Saddam-like fury.

They were dragged from their homes, taken to the hill town of Aley, brutally tortured and sentenced to be hanged by a drum-head military court. And hanged they duly were, only a few feet from the spot where the sea will now wash up to the square and scarcely 50 metres from the tomb where Rafiq Hariri now lies. A priest was hanged in his robes. The Ottoman officer went to his death in full military uniform.

And three days after the last batch of Lebanese patriots were hanged in 1916, François Georges Picot signed his infamous secret agreement with Sir Mark Sykes to divide up the Middle East, taking Syria for France — and Palestine for the Brits — which would ensure that the French government rather than an independent Lebanese government took over Lebanon.

Now here’s the rub. Not only had every leading Lebanese patriot been liquidated just before the Sykes-Picot agreement. But the French diplomat who had shamefully left those fatal letters behind in his consulate in Beirut was – wait for it – the very same François Georges Picot.

Convenient.

It is as martyrs that this day’s victims are best known, rather than their particular individual achievements. But Abdul-Karim al-Khalil had the day’s picturesque exit; just before he kicked away his own ladder, denying the executioner the pleasure, he declared:

O paradise of my country, carry our feelings of brotherly love to every Lebanese, to every Syrian, to every Arab, tell them of our tragic end and tell them: “For your freedom we have lived and for your independence we are dying!”

As a result of this day’s dealings, May 6 is known in both countries as Martyrs’ Day — an apt occasion for renewing the two states’ ties — and both Beirut and Damascus have a Martyrs’ Square. This is the monument in Beirut:

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous Last Words,France,Hanged,History,Lebanon,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Occupation and Colonialism,Ottoman Empire,Popular Culture,Power,Public Executions,Separatists,Syria,Torture,Treason,Wartime Executions


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