Who Was Wissam Al-Hassan?
Published Friday, October 19, 2012
Brigadier general Wissam al-Hassan, killed Friday by a large explosion in Beirut's Achrafieh district, was a top security official and a mysterious, controversial player in the Lebanese political-security arena since 2005.
His last posting was as the head of the Internal Security Forces' (ISF) controversial Information Branch, considered a divisive security apparatus because of the strong backing it enjoys from the opposition March 14 coalition, and a number of raids it conducted against people affiliated with the ruling March 8 coalition. He was in charge of the ongoing investigation against former Lebanese Information Minister Michel Samaha. Samaha was arrested in August over allegations that he was plotting to plant explosives in the northern city of Akkar at the behest of the Syrian government.
The ISF's information branch was created in the aftermath of former prime minister Rafik Hariri's assassination in 2005. It was considered a counterweight to Lebanese military intelligence which is seen to have close relations with Damascus. The newly-formed security apparatus was largely trained and supplied by US and pro-US Arab intelligence services, including Saudi Arabia.
Hassan was the head of late Prime Minister Rafik Hariri's personal security team before the latter's assassination.
A 2010 investigative piece published by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported that UN investigators scrutinized al-Hassan as a possible suspect in the Hariri assassination. The investigators considered his alibi to be "weak and inconsistent...[he is] a possible suspect in the Hariri murder."
Al-Hassan said he was studying for an exam at the Lebanese University on the day of Hariri's assassination, and therefore excused himself from tending to his bodyguard duties. Phone records showed that al-Hassan made 24 calls in the morning of the assassination, though he claimed he was studying.
The UN's commission's management decided not to proceed with investigations for fear of damaging relations with the ISF.
Hassan was also the subject of a number of WikiLeaks’ US embassy cables. In a 30 June 2006 cable, leader of the Lebanese Forces Samir Geagea confided in US ambassador Jeffrey Feltman to Lebanon that he was concerned with Hariri’s appointment of “his own man, Lt. Col. Wissam al-Hassan, to head the ISF intelligence branch.
“Geagea is worried that Hariri intends to expand the size and mission of the traditionally Sunni ISF intelligence branch to make it into a peer competitor with the traditionally Christian Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) G-2 and the traditionally Shia Surete General. Hariri wants a Cabinet decree to upgrade the ISF intelligence branch from to a section, which is bigger than a branch.”
The Information Branch was also in charge of busting a number of high-profile Israeli spy rings, including one led by Fayez Karam, a high-ranking Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) official and former head of the Lebanese Army's anti-terrorism and counter-espionage unit during the 1980s.
Karam was found guilty of contacting Israeli intelligence and providing them with information on Hezbollah and its ally the FPM. He was sentenced to two years in prison but served a shorter sentence, which raised an outcry over the preferential treatment given to elite political figures accused of collaborating with Israel.
In August, al-Hassan was named by the Free Syrian Army as a possible negotiating partner, after rebels kidnapped 11 Lebanese Shia pilgrims. The FSA also named former Future MP Okab Sakr who is considered by some in March 8 to be facilitating arms imports to Syrian rebels from Turkey.
Earlier this week, the Lebanese daily al-Diyar said its editor-in-chief Charles Ayoub received death threats after publishing a series of articles criticizing al-Hassan.
He was rumored to be slated as the next ISF chief.
Friday's bombing which targeted al-Hassan ripped through a residential Beirut neighborhood killing 8 people and injuring over 70.