Country Listing

Lebanon Table of Contents



By the mid-1980s, more than a decade of war had reduced drastically the authority and ability of the central government to enforce law and to implement justice. The unofficial militias and foreign occupying armies that governed much of Lebanon's civilian populace tended to enforce their own version of justice, without regard to the central government or legal norms. Nevertheless, Lebanese law still pertained in some limited venues. In 1987 Lebanon's police forces had been virtually assimilated into the armed forces and worked closely with the Syrian occupation force.

Under Lebanese law, a suspect must be arraigned before a committee composed of three judges and a prosecutor within fortyeight hours of being arrested. Nevertheless, government prosecutors sometimes held suspects for interrogation for indefinite periods of time without notifying judges. Every prisoner had the right to legal counsel, but there was no public defender's office. Bail was permitted in most cases. In practice and custom Lebanese law provided the right to a fair public trial, but many cases remained unadjudicated. Trial delays resulted from the difficulty of conducting investigations when most of the country remained outside government control, from a shortage of judges, and from the general breakdown in security. Courts existed in most parts of the country, but the disposition of criminal cases depended ultimately on the local power group. Militias frequently intervened to protect their members from prosecution and detention.

Common crime, to the extent that it could be distinguished from political violence, was rampant. In 1986 the Lebanese press described a surge in violent crime, including a rash of over eighty well-organized armed bank robberies in a two-year period and numerous kidnappings for ransom.

The definition of terrorism is fraught with controversy, particularly in the Middle Eastern context. But by almost any definition, Lebanon is an epicenter of terrorist activity. Assassination is an occupational hazard for politicians. The slaying of Prime Minister Karami on June 1, 1987, when a bomb exploded aboard his helicopter, was but another in a long string of political murders. Car bombings, known in the Lebanese lexicon as "canned death," were occurring almost on a daily basis. The United States embassy had twice been attacked by suicide truck-bombers. And the hijacking of TWA Flight 847 in June 1985 was only the most brazen of a long series of airliner hijackings originating in Beirut. Over the years, literally hundreds of groups have claimed responsibility for various acts of terrorism committed against civilian targets. Most of the names, however, were merely code words or noms de guerre meant to conceal the true identity of the organization behind the attack.

In the judgment of most informed observers, a few men or families have been responsible for masterminding the majority of terrorist operations. For example, the Lebanese Armed Revolutionary Faction, a terrorist organization that assassinated United States and Israeli officials in Western Europe in 1982 and 1984 and staged numerous other attacks, was revealed eventually to be run by a single Maronite extended family, the Abdallah clan from the northern Lebanese town of Al Qubayyat. In March 1987, ringleader George Ibrahim Abdallah was sentenced by a French court to life imprisonment. Likewise, virtually all of the Shia terrorist attacks against Western interests in Lebanon since 1982, claimed in the name of the Islamic Jihad Organization and a dozen other groups, have been attributed by intelligence experts to two related Shia families, the Mughniyyahs and the Musawis. Two leaders of these families, Imad Mughniyyah and Husayn al Musawi, were widely believed to be responsible for holding twenty-three Westerners hostage in 1987.

Data as of December 1987