Lebanese actor accused of spying for Israel released from jail
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Lebanese actor accused of spying for Israel released from jail

Officials now suspect Ziad Itani was framed by disgruntled ex-security agent who hired a hacker to link him to the Mossad

A file picture taken on July 18, 2013, shows Lebanese writer and actor Ziad Itani performing on stage in the capital Beirut. (AFP/Anwar Amro)
A file picture taken on July 18, 2013, shows Lebanese writer and actor Ziad Itani performing on stage in the capital Beirut. (AFP/Anwar Amro)

Lebanese authorities on Tuesday released a stage actor who was indicted on charges of collaborating with Israel and drug possession, and have ordered the arrest of the security officer who built the case against him.

The office of the chief military prosecutor said in a statement that Ziad Itani, who was arrested in November, would be released without bail.

“I was accused of the gravest crime, but now the truth has come out,” Itani told reporters as he left Roumieh Prison, according to the An-Nahar news website. He thanked his supporters, including the president and prime minister, for “seeking justice” in his case.

Lebanon and Israel are formally at war and collaborating with Israel can be punishable by death.

The prosecutor’s statement did not say why the security officer, Lt. Col. Suzan Hobeiche, former head of the anti-cybercrime unit, had been arrested. But local media has reported that Hobeiche had fabricated the case against Itani in a revenge scheme over the loss of her job.

According to the Daily Star, Hobeiche hired a hacker to create an internet trail between the actor and a fake “female Mossad agent” to make it appear that Itani was collecting information about Lebanese politicians and journalists.

A picture taken on November 6, 2010, shows then Internal security forces captain Suzan Hajj Hobeiche posing for a picture in her office in the Hadath region. (AFP PHOTO/AFP / ANWAR AMRO)

The report said that Hobeiche orchestrated the “collaboration” because she was angry over Itani’s screenshot of a tweet that she had liked, which she felt contributed to her firing from the security service last year.

In October 2017, Hobeiche liked — and quickly unliked — a tweet about Saudi Arabia’s decision to let women drive. “The news of allowing women to drive in Saudi Arabia was incomplete. Women will be allowed to drive the car only if it is rigged [with explosives],” it said.

Blaming Itani for her dismissal from the post, Hobeiche allegedly hired a hacker to incriminate the actor on collaboration charges, leading to his arrest and subsequent indictment.

The hacker, identified by local media reports as Elie Ghabash, was arrested last week and confessed to the scheme, Lebanese media said.

Itani shot to prominence in recent years thanks to a series of comedy plays on Beirut, its customs, and the transformations it has undergone in recent decades.

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri attends a cabinet meeting at the presidential palace of Baabda, east of the capital Beirut, on December 5, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / JOSEPH EID)

The works — particularly “Beirut Tariq al-Jdideh,” which refers to a majority-Sunni neighbourhood of the city — have been very well-received.

Before becoming an actor, Itani worked as a reporter with Lebanon’s Al-Mayadeen television channel and with various regional newspapers.

The case had gripped Lebanon at a time of heightened domestic tension over the resignation of the Saudi-backed Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

AP contributed to this report.

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