Assassination of Lokman Slim in S. Lebanon sends message from Hezbollah, Iran: report

Feb 05, 2021

Political sources in Beirut said the assassination of Lebanese Shia political activist and prominent Hezbollah critic Lokman Slim in southern Lebanon on Thursday (February 4), in an area under direct Hezbollah control, was intended to intimidate the Lebanese people, especially the Shia community, and send a message from Iran’s regime to the new US administration.

The sources told Arab Weekly that the substance of the message is that Lebanon and its entire Shia community are under the control of Hezbollah, which can do with them whatever it pleases, as it dominates all power structures in the country.

A leading Lebanese critic of the militant group Hezbollah and of the Assad regime in neighboring Syria, Slim was found dead on Thursday after being shot multiple times, including three shots to his head, in what his friends called a political assassination.

Lokman Slim, 58, was a publisher and filmmaker who was among a small group of political activists from the country’s Shiite Muslim minority who openly criticized Hezbollah for its violent role in the country and the wider Middle East.

The Lebanese political sources emphasised that the main factor in Slim's assassination lies in its timing, as it is obvious Hezbollah could have assassinated the political activist whenever it desired, especially as he resided in the Haret Hreik district in Beirut's southern suburbs.

However, the party waited until the new US administration headed by President Joe Biden took office in the White House to send a message to it that Hezbollah has complete control over Lebanon and the Shia community. Another part of the message is that Hezbollah will not tolerate any dissent from within the community.

The same sources indicated that Hezbollah and Iran were most troubled by the relations Slim kept with officials in the US administration and European officials, which showed that not all of Lebanon's Shia are under the wings of the party.

They added that Slim, who owned a publishing house and led a research institution, did not have much influence in popular Shia circles, especially as he was from Beirut and not from the south or the Bekaa, in addition to being perceived as an elitist.

But he had a wide network of international and Arab relations through which he could assert that the Shia of Lebanon are not all affiliated with Iran and that there is another side to the Shia community than Hezbollah and Iran.

Notably, the son of Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah hastened to endorse the assassination, writing on Twitter: “The loss of some is in fact a gain and a form of unexpected kindness. No regrets.” Shortly afterwards, however, Jawad Hassan Nasrallah deleted the tweet, which many considered to be tantamount to Hezbollah putting its signature on the crime.

Slim hailed from a well-to-do family that is one of ten leading Shia families with deeply anchored roots in the southern suburbs of Beirut, originally a Shia-Christian area.

His father, a lawyer, Mohsen Slim, with no known loyalties except to Lebanon, owned a large house in the area of Haret Hreik, where the family of current President Michel Aoun once lived.

Despite constantly receiving threats, Slim lived with his German wife in Haret Hreik and took no security precautions.

His assassination in the Hezbollah-controlled southern Lebanon region occurred while he was on his way back to Beirut, after spending the evening with friends in the southern village of Niha, near Srifa.

Aoun called for a probe to quickly identify the parties behind the killing of the activist, who was found dead in his car in the southern part of the country.

Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri tweeted, “Lokman Slim is a new martyr on the path to freedom and democracy in Lebanon, and his assassination cannot be dissociated from the context of the assassinations of his predecessors. Lokman Slim was clearer than everyone, perhaps in identifying the source of danger facing the homeland."

The head of the caretaker government, Hassan Diab, said that whoever is responsible for Slim's assassination will be held accountable.

Amnesty International and a senior United Nations diplomat, as well as Ralph Tarraf, the European Union’s ambassador to Lebanon, have all called for an investigation.

"We deplore the prevailing culture of impunity," Tarraf wrote on Twitter.

The Skeyes Center for the Defence of Media and Cultural Freedom said that it feared "tampering with the evidence" in the crime scene as well as the occurrence of other attempts to liquidate "the symbols of free political thought and opposition."

In a recent interview with Saudi-owned Al-Hadath TV channel, Slim said he believed Damascus and its ally Hezbollah were involved in the port blast that rocked Beirut August 4, killing 200 people and wounding thousands.

His criticism of Hezbollah sparked attacks from party supporters, who at times described him as belonging to the "embassy Shia," a label used to try to discredit opponents of the militant party by describing them as tools in the hands of the United States.

Former MP Bassem Al-Sabe said that Slim's assassination carried a "direct message to all activists, writers and politicians from the Shia community who chose to move, exercise their activism and express their views outside the political orbit of Hezbollah."

Lebanese journalist Ali Al-Amin described Slim's murder as the responsibility of the president and Hezbollah, which is responsible for security in the area where the crime took place. "Lokman Slim has often clearly declared his opposition to Hezbollah and received threats in secret and in public," he added.

Journalist Hazem Saghieh said, "The killing of Lokman Slim constitutes a very big loss for Lebanon, culture, thought, work, seriousness, integrity and frankness in saying what should be said."

- Arab Weekly

Photo: Protesters hold pictures of slain Lebanese intellectual Lokman Slim, during a rally in Beirut, on February 4, 2021. The placard on the left reads in Arabic: “Hezbollah’s weapons pointed towards whom?”. (AFP) - Arab Weekly