Lebanon detains 2 Russian citizens for allegedly spying for Israel

Hezbollah says suspect attempted ‘reconnaissance’ mission at bases, was detained two weeks ago at Beirut airport while trying to flee country

File: Middle East Airlines jet grounded at the Rafik Hariri International Airport, in Beirut, Lebanon, November 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
File: Middle East Airlines jet grounded at the Rafik Hariri International Airport, in Beirut, Lebanon, November 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

Two Russian citizens were recently detained in Beirut on suspicion of spying for Israel and have been referred to an investigative military judge who issued arrest warrants for them, two Lebanese judicial officials said Monday.

The two Russians were detained “several weeks ago” in Beirut as they were leaving the country through the capital’s Rafik Hariri International Airport, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

The detentions came after Hezbollah told security forces that one of the suspects had tried to break into an apartment in Beirut’s southern suburb, a stronghold for the group.

Following his arrest, he was interrogated at the general security department and then referred to military prosecutors, who are now in charge of the investigation.

Hezbollah had told Lebanese security forces that a Russian citizen “was recruited by the Israelis for a reconnaissance mission of their headquarters in the southern suburbs of Beirut and south Lebanon,” a Lebanese security official told AFP.

On Friday, the interim chief of Lebanon’s General Security agency Elias al-Baysari said authorities had arrested “a two-person network with ties to the enemy [Israel] at Beirut Airport, and who were tasked to carry out operations” in Lebanon.

“We interrogated them and referred them to the competent military judiciary,” he added, without providing details on the nationality of the detained.

Russia’s Sputnik News on Saturday quoted “a Russian embassy source” as saying that the Russian consulate is trying to contact the detainees to know why they are being held. The Russian Embassy in Beirut refused to comment when contacted by The Associated Press, adding that the Sputnik News report is accurate.

The Lebanese officials said an investigative judge at the military tribunal, Fadi Sawwan, questioned the two and charged them with “crimes of dealing with the Israeli enemy by supplying security information that endangers Lebanon’s security.” He referred them to another judge to continue the investigation.

File: View of the border fence between Israel and Lebanon, northern Israel, August 10, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

The Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar said the two Russian citizens are a man and wife who were recruited by Israel’s intelligence service to go to Lebanon and collect information and take photos of facilities belonging to Hezbollah.

Lebanese or Arab citizens charged with spying for Israel can get up to a death sentence in Lebanon. Other nationals get harsh sentences.

Lebanon technically remains at war with Israel and forbids citizens from having any contact with Israel or traveling there.

Israel and Hezbollah fought a 33-day war in 2006.

The number of people arrested for allegedly collaborating with Israel has significantly jumped since the country’s economy collapsed in late 2019, security officials had previously told AFP.

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