BEIRUT (AP) — Masked men attacked the headquarters of a leading Lebanese TV station with burning tires after it hosted a hard-line Sunni Muslim cleric who harshly criticized the country’s Shiite Muslim leaders, police said Tuesday.
Video footage of the Monday night attack taken by security cameras and broadcast on local television showed five masked figures assaulting the headquarters of Al-Jadeed TV in Beirut.
The attackers also fired several shots at the building, police said, leaving it damaged only lightly and causing no casualties. The police officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to release the information, believe the attack came in response to the secular channel’s interview with Sunni cleric Sheik Ahmad al-Aseer. One suspect was in custody, they added.
Ibrahim Dsouki, who runs the station’s website, said it had been knocked out of service for several hours due to another, online attack.
The incident comes at a time of rising tensions between Lebanon’s Sunni and Shiite communities, exacerbated by the uprising in Syria. Many Shiites in Lebanon support the regime of President Bashar Assad, who is a member of the Alawite sect, an off-shoot of Shiite Islam. Many Sunnis on the other hand oppose Assad and support the predominantly Sunni Syrian opposition.
Guards at the television station detained the suspect, whose pants caught fire during the attack, and handed him over to police, police said.
The man’s detention sparked an angry protest in the central neighborhood of Zoqaq Blat, where dozens rallied in his support, blocking roads and burning tires.
Soldiers later re-opened the roads and conducted raids in the quarter, where the suspect lives, in search of accomplices.
Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said the detainee was a known trouble maker and was previously convicted.
In Al-Jadeed’s broadcast on Sunday, al-Aseer, one of Lebanon’s most outspoken Sunnis, leveled harsh criticism at the country’s most powerful Shiite figures — Sheik Hassan Nasrallah of Islamic militant group Hezbollah, and parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who heads the Amal movement.
Al-Aseer accused Shiites of taking control of the country and being behind the brief detention of a notable Sunni cleric along with his wife and child last week.
“I swear to God I will make you pay a high price,” al-Aseer said in response to the incident, in comments directed at Nasrallah. Al-Aseer is also a harsh critic of the Syrian president, having organized a large demonstration earlier this year in support of the country’s uprising.
Amal denied reports the arson suspect in custody was a member of the movement.
Hours after the interview with al-Aseer was aired on Sunday, Al-Jadeed said his statements did not reflect the views of the station.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.