A US citizen who had faced decades-old murder and torture charges in Lebanon has been freed, a senator who had pushed for his release announced Thursday.
New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen said in a statement that she had spoken with Amer Fakhoury on the phone soon after his release.
Lebanese officials alleged that Fakhoury, 57, of Dover, New Hampshire, who had been jailed since September, was responsible for the killings and abuse of prisoners in Lebanon as part of an Israeli-backed militia two decades ago.
His case had put a significant strain on already troubled ties between the US and Lebanon. Lawmakers in Washington had threatened to withhold critical aid to the country and impose sanctions on the Lebanese military, which is seen by the Trump administration as a bulwark against the Iranian-backed Hezbollah movement.
“Anytime a US citizen is wrongfully detained by a foreign government, we must use every tool at our disposal to free them,” Shaheen said in her statement.
“I’m very glad that Amer is finally coming home and will be reunited with his family. No family should have to go through what the Fakhoury family has gone through.
Hours before Shaheen announced Fakhoury's release a US Marine Osprey was seen landing at the US Embassy in Beirut.
Fakhoury was ordered released on Monday because more than 10 years had passed since he allegedly tortured prisoners at a jail run by the South Lebanon Army militia. But he was not immediately allowed to leave the country after a Lebanese military judge on Tuesday appealed the decision, asking the Military Court of Appeals to strike down the decision to free Fakhoury.
A judge of urgent matters in the southern town of Nabatiyeh issued a ruling preventing Fakhoury from leaving Lebanon for two months. Judge Ahmad Mezher’s decision came after a request filed by former inmates.
Fakhoury is a former SLA member who became a US citizen last year. His case has been closely followed in New Hampshire, where Shaheen and other officials have called for imposing sanctions on Lebanon to pressure Beirut to release him.
Fakhoury was jailed last year after returning to Lebanon on vacation to visit family. Lebanon’s intelligence service said he confessed during questioning to being a warden at Khiam Prison, which was run by the SLA during Israel’s 18-year occupation of southern Lebanon.
Human rights groups have described the prison as a center for torture.
Fakhoury’s family and lawyer, however, said he had no direct contact with inmates and was never involved in any interrogation or torture.
Lebanon and Israel have been officially at war since Israel’s creation in 1948. Lebanon bans its citizens from traveling to Israel or having contact with Israelis.
Fakhoury’s lawyer and family say he fled Lebanon in 2001 through Israel and eventually to the United States because of death threats he and many other SLA members received after Israel ended its occupation of Lebanon in 2000.
Fakhoury was formally charged in February by a military judge with the murder and torture of inmates at Khiam Prison.