Exclusive: The Man Behind Hariri's Secret Army
By: Radwan Mortada
Published Thursday, October 25, 2012
In his first interview with the press, former Lebanese Army Colonel Amid Hammoud, the commander of the Future Movement military wing, denies any role in the recent violence that has rocked Beirut and Tripoli, but admits he would not hesitate to arm Sunnis as he believes it is their right to protect themselves.
The shadowy security chief of the Future Movement arrives amid a convoy of cars with tinted windows accompanied by armed men who vigilantly scan the surrounds looking for any possible threat.
One of these bodyguards stands to attention near the entrance of the restaurant in Tripoli where Hammoud is to meet with a reporter from Al-Akhbar.
Inside, the military commander of the Future Movement, retired Colonel Amid Hammoud, sits waiting. Hammoud has never met with a reporter before, but his name, if not his face, is already widely known.
Hammoud’s name has been mentioned in many reports compiled by the official security forces, mostly in reference to his involvement in arming Syrian fighters and recruiting youths to fight the Syrian government.
Many tales are told about the officer who resigned because he felt “humiliated by the army’s conduct” during the events of May 2008, when Hezbollah took over large sections of Beirut following the government’s decision to shut down the Resistance movement’s communication network.
In his first interview with the press, the military commander of the Future Movement speaks about how his priorities changed over time. The fifty-year old Hammoud begins by talking about his parents and the modest household where he was raised. He speaks of his early religiosity and his life before he joined the military academy.
He recalls how 44 people from his village of Ras Nhash in the Batroun region were killed during the Lebanese Civil War. Hammoud says that this was his motive for joining the army back in 1983.
Over the span of his career in the armed forces, he was deployed in most regions of Lebanon. Hammoud remembers one incident in particular, which he recounts in detail as though reliving it all over again. He believes this was a major turning point in his personal “history of resistance” in the ranks of the Lebanese army “against the Israeli occupation.”
In 1993, he was the commander of a tank squadron stationed in the southern village of Shoukine. According to Hammoud, his battalion was the only one to fire at the Dabshah hill, destroying an Israeli tank on his orders, “with the permission of the battalion commander Farouk Khraibati.”
“This was the first major battle [I fought] alongside the resistance,” he says.
Hammoud speaks at length about his drive and enthusiasm for fighting what he calls “the holy battle” against Israel. He recounts how, following the shelling of the hill, “The army command became embarrassed by me, and put me on a five-day leave as I was considered troublesome, although they were still calling up reserve soldiers at the time.”
He names several field commanders in Hezbollah who used to be stationed in Tafahta and Houmine al-Tahta, and whom he considered dear friends. Hammoud talks passionately about the Resistance, recalling events from the 2006 July War.
“I know that Shia-Sunni sedition is being stirred up, but I am not the one stoking it,” he insists.
Hammoud makes a distinction between two phases in his life, one that existed prior to the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, and the one that came after. During the first phase, resistance against Israel was his only concern, but Hariri’s assassination prompted him to reconsider his position.
Hammoud is firmly convinced that the Syrian regime was behind Hariri’s killing, and that Hezbollah was deeply involved in the assassination.
The events of 7 May 2008 represented the second transitional phase in his life, he says.
“Hezbollah’s decision to invade Beirut and the casualties that fell, and the humiliation of people while the army was helpless and hindered by the political authority,” were wounds that would not heal for him.
In the aftermath of these incidents, he, along with 120 other officers, tendered his resignation. The text of his resignation letter read: “I hereby resign due to the humiliation caused by the Army’s conduct during the militias’ invasion of Beirut.”
Hammoud says that the army commander at the time, General Michel Suleiman, now the president, tried unsuccessfully to persuade him not to resign. All the other officers who have resigned withdrew their resignations, but Hammoud refused.
“I wasn’t going to return to such a powerless institution,” he says. “I do not accept being humiliated, ever.”
When he sought to “mobilize the Sunni arena,” he was shocked to find that the Sunnis “were petrified,” he says. In his view, the only way to strengthen his community was to push it to speak with one voice. But, he laments, “The community was sharply fragmented.”
The retired colonel blames this on the Future Movement’s fecklessness and the inexperience of its young leaders, “who marginalized competent [advisers].”
Hammoud tells of how he toured many Sunni regions in the country. Then, he was approached by Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who asked him to take charge of the Future Partisans, the armed wing of the Future Movement.
“I declined in the beginning, as I had not yet found my feet; particularly when the group was more than 15,000 strong,” he says.
But Hariri did not care for Hammoud’s excuses. The former prime minister asked him to come back with a proposal within three weeks. Hammoud says he prepared a comprehensive study on the group’s members, with help from some intelligence officers.
Hammoud then delivered his findings to Hariri, telling him: “These people are the reason you were defeated on May 7.”
Hammoud says he discovered that the official security agencies and other Lebanese factions had more eyes “in the Future Partisans than the Future Movement itself.”
Hammoud says he advised Hariri to disband the group and build a cohesive and well-organized organization from scratch. When asked for the rationale behind this proposal, Hammoud replied that this was “to create a strong bond that could confront Hezbollah and other armed groups.”
Responding to reports run by Al-Akhbar regarding his attempt to replicate Hezbollah’s experience within the Sunni community, Hammoud says: “I wish I could establish a group as well-organized and professional as Hezbollah. I do not deny this, provided that this group would be in the service of my community and my country only, and not a Persian or Syrian scheme.”
Hammoud insists he does not object to the Shia community being strong, because this would benefit Lebanon, as he said, but he rejects what he describes as their subservience to Syria and Iran.
In Tripoli, Amid Hammoud is reputed to be one of the most prominent leaders of the armed groups which deploy on the streets “during emergencies,” and the sporadic clashes between Bab al-Tabbana and Jabal Mohsen.
“My word is heard among them, but I do not command them,” Hammoud says. “I am always dispatched at the request of the field commanders, and I often meet them. I will not answer if you ask me whether I give them weapons, but it is natural that I give them money and then they buy [weapons].”
Hammoud denies claims that he has recruited youths to fight in Syria, pointing out that most of the Lebanese nationals who have taken part in the fighting in Syria went there for personal reasons.
Nevertheless, he asserts that he is a “first-class supporter of the revolution in Syria,” and admits he provides aid to any wounded Syrians and shelter to Syrian refugees.
Sometimes, the former officer says, he has to intervene to secure the release of certain Syrians after they have been arrested, and gives the Syrians money, even if the money is used to purchase arms.
Hammoud emphasizes that he is not personally involved in the distribution of arms, but seems to know many arms dealers, and often introduces the Syrian rebels to them. He then goes as far as to say that he may soon go to Syria to fight Bashar al-Assad’s forces himself, adding that this would be a “source of pride” for him.
Hammoud maintains that his group does not keep weapons depots, insisting he does not even have a place for shooting practice, and that he goes to licensed shooting clubs to use his private handgun.
At the same time, however, Hammoud announces new plans for “arming the Sunni community to confront Hezbollah if it does not put an end to the bombings, the killing and its efforts to destabilize the country.”
Hammoud says that establishing a counterpart to the resistance movement “would create a deterrent that would prompt sensible leaders to intervene.”
According to Hammoud, there is a wing within the Shia community that has been calling on Hezbollah to reconsider its policies because they all stand to lose from a Sunni-Shia rift in the Arab world.
Concerning rumors that he sent militants to Beirut during the recent clashes, Hammoud says he did instruct young men in the capital, “but not armed men as such.”
He also equivocates when asked about his role in the procurement and distribution of weapons, maintaining that he only distributed arms during the wave of violence in 2008, but that he has not done so since.
Regarding his role in supporting the Syrian opposition, Hammoud does not deny that dozens of Syrians have come to him for help in smuggling weapons by sea, but emphasizes that he is not involved “beyond this.”
Hammoud swears that he has not been to Syria or trained anyone there, but admits that he is considering the idea, because, as he put it: “We are an integral part of the Syrian uprising.”
Responding to allegations that he brought weapons to Libya, the former army officer says that he went to congratulate the Libyans on the victory of their revolution, but then adds: “If I can get weapons then I will not hesitate. We are in the camp that is hostile to Hezbollah. We are being targeted, and it is our right to defend ourselves.”
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.