A group of men were arrested on suspicion they were behind the filmed assault of a Syrian national in a video that went viral, Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk announced in a Twitter Wednesday. “The men who assaulted the Syrian refugee were recently arrested by the [Internal Security Forces’] Intelligence Branch,” Machnouk’s Twitter post read.
A grainy video, which surfaced on social media Tuesday and was widely shared, showed a group of men verbally abusing and then beating a Syrian refugee on the street. It was not clear from the footage where and when the assault took place, nor did it clearly depict the assailants.
“I am not involved in these things,” the refugee said when the suspects demanded to know if he supported either the Syrian regime or Daesh (ISIS) after he denied that he would protest against the Lebanese Army.
Following the recent deaths of four Syrian nationals in Lebanese Army custody after a raid on Arsal and the perceived rise in anti-Syrian sentiment in the country, a group of activists called for a demonstration in Downtown Beirut calling for solidarity with refugees and an investigation into the deaths.
However, the protest was quickly branded as anti-Lebanese Army by some on social media.
When the assailants demanded his paperwork, he told the suspects they were at home. This led one of the group to slap him, quickly followed by others who kicked, punched and insulted him, his family, Syria and Daesh.
This assault came after a widely shared WhatsApp voice message from a group named “Thy Will Be Done,” addressed to all Lebanese nationals saying “[If] you see a Syrian, you go, you hit him,” going on to call Syrians “terrorist[s] who will protest against our honorable Lebanese Army.”
The group’s message called on Lebanese nationals to gather and “hit them [Syrian nationals], break them,” adding “we don’t need to play nice anymore.”
Following the recent incidents President Michel Aoun Tuesday called for level heads saying that “the spread of hatred is totally unacceptable, especially that the consequences could be horrible for both [Lebanese and Syrians].”
The ISF raided the house of Syrian national Hani al-Hussein near Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp in Sidon on suspicion that he was behind the “Union of Syrian People in Lebanon” Facebook group that had called for the demonstration to “defend the rights of Syrians in Lebanon.”
This call came following an Army raid in two Syrian refugee settlements near the northeastern border town of Arsal on June 30, in an effort to crackdown on militants entrenched in the area. The operation saw 356 Syrian nationals detained, of which four died, after the Army was targeted by five suicide bombers, an explosive device and a grenade attack.
Criticism of the Army and the planned protest were met with calls for a counterdemonstration from relatives of Army servicemen and others. To avert a potentially violent confrontation Machnouk said the ministry would not process any permits related to holding protests.
An Interior Ministry source added that if any demonstrations did take place Tuesday, the ISF would deal with them on a case-by-case basis.