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Ex-Lebanese minister named as Assad agent

Dec. 17, 2012 at 1:55 PM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, Dec. 17 (UPI) -- A former Lebanese minister was designated as an agent working on behalf of Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime, the U.S. Treasury Department said Monday.

Ex-Minister of Information and Tourism Michel Samaha was designated a under an executive order that targets people undermining Lebanese sovereignty, including persons supporting efforts by the Assad regime to foment sectarian violence in Lebanon, the department said in a release.

The violence that began in March 2011 in Syria by rebels seeking Assad's ouster has spilled over into neighboring countries in recent months. Support for the Syrian rebels is strong in northern Lebanon; Sunni and Alawite militias have clashed in the northern capital of Tripoli, leaving dozens of dead and wounded.

Concurrently, the State Department designated Samaha as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist.

Monday's action means U.S. persons are barred from engaging in any business transactions with Samaha, and any assets Samaha holds under U.S. jurisdiction are frozen, Treasury officials said.

Samaha was arrested by Lebanese authorities in August 2012 for plotting to carry out terrorist attacks in Lebanon, the Treasury Department said. He has remained in Lebanese custody and has been charged with plotting to assassinate political and religious figures in Lebanon through targeted bombings.

Officials have said his actions appear to be efforts to promote sectarian clashes in northern Lebanon.

"The United States will continue to expose any attempts by the Assad regime to meddle in the affairs of its neighbors and further destabilize the region," Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen said. "We will continue to work with our international partners to ensure that the sovereignty of Lebanon is respected and upheld."

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