Lebanese political activist critical of Hezbollah assassinated

The body was found at midnight on a road near a town in the south of the country
File photo of Lokman Slim

AFP PHOTO/LOKMAN SLIM'S OFFICE  -   File photo of Lokman Slim

A prominent Lebanese political activist and essayist critical of the Hezbollah militia was found dead with his body riddled with bullets Thursday morning in his car, security and forensic officials said. 

Lokman Slim, 58, a Shi'ite, went missing on Wednesday night while visiting friends in a village in the south of the country. His family, who were expecting him to return to Beirut the same day, were quick to post messages on social media alerting them to his disappearance, including one written by his wife on Twitter that Slim was not answering his phone. 

Security forces finally found Slim's car at midnight on a rural road near the village of Addoussieh, also in the south of the country, a region where Hezbollah maintains a strong presence. 

Las fuerzas de seguridad inspeccionan la escena en la que Lokman Slim, un activista político e investigador chií desde hace mucho tiempo, fue encontrado muerto en su coche
AP/MOHAMMED ZAATARI - Security forces inspect the scene where Lokman Slim, a longtime Shiite political activist and researcher, was found dead in his car.

The coroner on the scene reported that Slim had four gunshot wounds to the chest, head and neck and that death was instantaneous. The interior of the car was covered in blood. 

A member of the police, who spoke to news agencies on condition of anonymity, said Slim's identity card, phone and revolver were not found.

A family member said he learned of his death from the media while at a police station to report him missing. The family home in the suburbs of Beirut was silent in shock at Slim's murder.

Un colaborador del destacado activista libanés Lokman Slim es fotografiado en su casa, que es también la sede de su organización UMAM Documentation and Research, en los suburbios del sur de la capital, Beirut, tras su muerte, el 4 de febrero de 2021
AFP/ANWAR AMRO - An associate of prominent Lebanese activist Lokman Slim is photographed at his home, which is also the headquarters of his organisation UMAM Documentation and Research, in the southern suburbs of the capital Beirut after his death on 4 February 2021.

His death has also shaken the entire country and there are already fears that it signals the return of political violence. Despite Lebanon's ongoing instability, such a crime has not occurred for years. The authorities, however, have already warned that the tension caused by the political standoff and economic crisis is leading to a return of violence and killings. 

Slim's criticism of Hezbollah made him the target of criticism from supporters of the armed movement, who referred to him disparagingly as "an Embassy Shia", a term they use to accuse opponents of being US puppets.

The circumstances of the crime have not yet been clarified, although a security official said an investigation had been launched. 

Interior Minister Mohammad Fahmi described the crime as "horrendous" in statements to local television station MTV.

Slim founded and ran Umam, a film production company where he organised public debates, political photos and art exhibitions. He also had a large library dedicated to Lebanese and Shia history. 

As a political activist, he founded the Haya Bina (Let's Go) group in 2005, whose goals are citizen participation in electoral processes and changing the sect-based power system. He also advocated building a full and secular democracy to end the confessionalism that reigns in Lebanese politics. 

Manifestantes sostienen fotos del destacado activista e intelectual libanés asesinado, Lokman Slim
PHOTO/AFP - Demonstrators hold photos of slain Lebanese activist and intellectual Lokman Slim

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Slim's assassination "appalling" and said it was a "cowardly and unacceptable" act to silence him.

"We urge the Lebanese authorities, including political and judicial leaders, to hold those who committed these barbaric acts accountable without delay or exception," Blinken said in a statement.

Hezbollah, the main suspect, immediately denied any involvement in the activist's death.

The Shi'ite armed group, which is represented in the country's parliament and government, is the only Lebanese faction that has not dismantled its military arsenal in the aftermath of the civil war. It is considered by the United States and the European Union, among others, as a terrorist organisation. Washington, in fact, has intensified sanctions against its officials and allies in Lebanon.