Lebanon issues arrest warrants for 2 Russians suspected of spying for Israel
Two Russian citizens who were recently detained in Beirut on suspicion of spying for Israel have been referred to an investigative military judge who issued arrest warrants for them, two judicial officials said Monday.
The two Russians were detained "several weeks ago" in Beirut as they were leaving the country through the capital's Rafik Hariri International Airport, the officials said. The two judicial officials spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
The head of Lebanon's General Security Directorate Maj. Gen. Elias Bayssari announced Friday that two foreigners were detained while leaving Lebanon through the airport, describing them as "part of a network spying for Israel." He did not give their identities or say when they were detained.
Russia's Sputnik News on Saturday quoted "a Russian embassy source" as saying that the Russian consulate is trying to contact the detainees to know why they are being held. The Russian Embassy in Beirut refused to comment when contacted by The Associated Press adding that the Sputnik News report is accurate.
The officials said an investigative judge at the military tribunal, Fadi Sawwan, questioned the two and charged them with "crimes of dealing with the Israeli enemy by supplying security information that endangers Lebanon's security." He referred them to another judge to continue the investigation.
Lebanese or Arab citizens charged with spying for Israel can get up to a death sentence in Lebanon. Other nationals get harsh sentences.
The Lebanese daily al-Akhbar said the two Russian citizens are a man and wife who were recruited by Israel's intelligence service to go to Lebanon and collect information and take photos of facilities belonging to Hezbollah.
A security official meanwhile told AFP that Hezbollah had told security forces that a Russian citizen "was recruited by the Israelis for a reconnaissance mission of their headquarters in the southern suburbs of Beirut and south Lebanon."
Security forces arrested him around two weeks ago at Beirut airport while he was trying to flee with his wife and child, the official said.
It came after Hezbollah told security forces that the suspect had tried to break into an apartment in Beirut's southern suburbs, a stronghold for the group.
Following his arrest he was interrogated at the General Security department and then referred to military prosecutors who are now in charge of the investigation.
The number of people arrested for allegedly collaborating with Israel has significantly jumped since Lebanon's economy collapsed in late 2019, security officials had previously told AFP.
Lebanon and Israel have formally been at war since Israel's creation in 1948.
Israel and Hezbollah fought a devastating month-long war in Lebanon in 2006. Hezbollah has in the past claimed downing Israeli drones, and Israel's military also has said in the past that they have shot down Hezbollah drones.
Israel considers Hezbollah its most serious immediate threat, estimating it has some 150,000 rockets and missiles aimed at Israel.