The trial of radical Islamic Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir will press on at the next session scheduled for May 16, after a court hearing Tuesday was postponed due to the lead defendant refusing to address the court. A judicial source told The Daily Star Tuesday that despite Assir refusing to address the court and both his lawyers and those representing many of the 71 other co-defendants boycotting the session, authorities will press ahead with the prosecution’s case regardless of Assir’s level of cooperation.
Tuesday’s session began with seven military lawyers being appointed to represent those without legal representation in attendance.
During the questioning, Assir, who is on trial for his role in the 2013 Abra clashes, refused to answer questions, claiming that the court session was against his rights.
“I will refuse to answer any question the court asks me,” Assir was quoted as saying.
When Judge Hani al-Hajjar asked the defendant who had fired the first shots that led to the clashes, Assir remained silent.
The extremist preacher claimed the judicial proceedings were a war on him and the Bilal bin Rabah Mosque – the mosque in the south Lebanon city of Sidon in which Assir held his popular sermons.
Another defendant, Mohammad Salah, told the court that Hezbollah and the Resistance Brigades were involved in the Abra clashes “and I demand their presence [in court], including Hassan Nasrallah.”
“Why is this happening to us, because we’re Sunni?” another defendant, Adnan al-Baba, was quoted as asking the court. “Everyone knows that the Lebanese Resistance Brigades are part of this case.”
An earlier trial session scheduled for April 4 was derailed by Assir’s defense team’s decision to withdraw, accompanied by the attorneys of other defendants.
Lebanese authorities arrested the Salafist Assir at Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International Airport in 2015, after he had spent more than two years on the run.
Assir is on trial alongside 71 loyalists – including 24 fugitives – on charges of involvement in the June 2013 clashes with the Lebanese Army in Sidon’s Abra neighborhood.
The two-day battle led to the deaths of about 40 Assir loyalists and 18 soldiers. Assir’s lawyers claim Hezbollah linked forces began the battles and call for authorities to investigate this theory before beginning the case against their client.
Assir had been relatively unknown prior to the outbreak of the Syrian war in 2011, but quickly grew to notoriety over his fiery anti-Hezbollah rhetoric.
Family members of the defendants gathered outside the court in Beirut calling for the suspects to be granted amnesty.