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US military helicopter 'smuggles' Israel collaborator Amer Fakhoury out of Beirut embassy despite travel ban Open in fullscreen

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US military helicopter 'smuggles' Israel collaborator Amer Fakhoury out of Beirut embassy despite travel ban

An image purported to show the US Air Force chopper flying across Beirut [Twitter]

Date of publication: 19 March, 2020

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Defying a court-ordered travel ban, a US marine helicopter was seen landing on the embassy roof and is thought to have taken the alleged war criminal out of the country.
Alleged civil war torture mastermind Amer Fakhoury, held in Lebanon since September after spending decades in the US, has been evacuated from the country by a US Marine helicopter, a senator who had pushed for his release confirmed on Thursday.

US President Donald Trump later championed the operation in his daily news conference.

Rumours of his dramatic escape ran riot after the Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey was spotted flying over Beirut and landing on the roof of the embassy, where Fakhoury was being held, despite having been banned from leaving the country.

The aircraft then left ten minutes later, according to observers.

Senator Jeanne Shaheen of Fakhoury's home state of New Hampshire later confirmed in a statement that she had spoken with Fakhoury on the phone soon after his release, adding that he was heading to the US.

Trump confirmed Fakhoury's release during his daily press conference on the coronavirus pandemic later on Thursday, saying: "We've been working very hard to get him freed. He's finally able to have his entire family at his side."

"The United States has no higher priority than the safety and well-being of our citizens," he added.

Fakhoury, a dual US-Lebanese citizen, is known as the "Butcher of Khiam" in reference to his time as warden in the notorious prison during the civil war, where he fought alongside an Israeli-backed militia. 

He had been slapped with a travel ban on Tuesday after a Lebanese military judge appealed an earlier verdict by a military tribunal that ordered his release after six months of detention and interrogation.

Judge Ghassan Khoury asked the Military Court of Appeals to strike down an earlier ruling acquitting Fakhoury and issue an arrest warrant against him.

Monday's tribunal had ordered Fakhoury released because more than 10 years had passed since he allegedly tortured prisoners at the jail run by the Southern Lebanon Army militia.

His release order was met with widespread outrage across Lebanon, notably from Hezbollah who called it "a sad day for Lebanon and justice".

After the appeal was made, a judge of urgent matters in the southern town of Nabatiyeh swiftly issued a ruling preventing Fakhoury from leaving Lebanon for two months, following a request filed by former inmates of Khiam.

Fakhoury's case had placed a significant strain on already troubled ties between the US and Lebanon. Congress members 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 Hezbollah.

"Anytime a US citizen is wrongfully detained by a foreign government, we must use every tool at our disposal to free them," Senator 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."

In-depth: South Lebanon Army: Return of war-time 'collaborator' shines spotlight on brutal legacy of Israel's militia

Fakhoury, 57, became a US citizen last year, and is now a restaurant owner in Dover, New Hampshire. His case has been closely followed in his home state of New Hampshire, where Senator Jeanne Shaheen and other officials have called for imposing sanctions on Lebanon to pressure Beirut to release him.

Fakhoury has been jailed since 12 September after returning to Lebanon to visit family. Lebanon's intelligence service said he confessed during questioning to being a warden at Khiam Prison.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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