BEIRUT, Lebanon -- The Amal militia sacked its security chief Friday because he accused the group of using excessive force in its search for kidnapped Marine Lt. Col. William R. Higgins and said the American had spied on terrorists for NATO.
Just hours before he was dismissed, Mustafa Dirani scolded Amal's leadership over its 'practices and the harms that resulted from the security procedures it applied following Higgin's kidnapping.'
A statement from the Shiite Amal militia said Dirani was too extreme in his criticism and accusations and was relieved of his duties.
Dirani, however, said he considered the firing, decided by the Amal politburo, as invalid.
The Amal, which controls most of southern Lebanon except for some pockets under the pro-Iranian Hezbollah, has joined forces with U.N. peacekeeping troops in the search for Higgins, who was kidnapped last week. The Moslem militiamen have stormed scores of homes and detained several pro-Iranian fundamentalists, including three of Higgins' abductors.
Dirani characterized Higgins as a spy who does not deserve the Amal's attention and said the Amal officials who ordered the manhunt should be punished.
Dirani accused Higgins and other U.N. officers of gathering information to help the NATO combat 'what they call terrorism, which in fact is our legitimate right to defend our land in the south.'
'We possess confirmed information that the NATO pact hired U.N. and UNIFIL (U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon) officers to gather information on the Lebanese scene, ahead of carrying out an act of piracy in the near future,' he said.
Dirani was believed one of the masterminds of attacks by Amal guerrillas against Israeli troops in southern Lebanon from 1982 until Israel withdrew most of its troops from the area in 1985.
Higgins, 43, headed a 75-member Lebanon observation unit attached to the U.N. Truce Supervision Organization. He was abducted while driving from the ancient port of Tyre, 46 miles south of Beirut and became the ninth American missing in Lebanon and the 23rd foreign hostage.
The Organization of the Oppressed on Earth, believed to be an Iranian-backed group, claimed responsibility for abducting Higgins and accused him of being a CIA agent. U.N and U.S. officials have denied the claim.
Daoud Daoud, Amal's security chief and the group's No. 2 leader, said the Amal's search for Higgins in southern Lebanon would continue, despite its escalating tensions with the pro-Iranian Hezbollah, or Party of God, a radical Shiite sect suspected of masterminding the American's kidnapping Feb. 17.
Daoud attempted to deflate the growing tension between his group and the Hezbollah, saying, 'We strongly reject an inter-Shiite feud.'
'Our men will not stay on alert indefinitely. We will continue the search for Higgins but in a more discreet way,' said Daoud, apparently shifting from a hardline position Wednesday when he said he was determined to use force to secure Higgins' release.
Shortly before Dirani's firing, suspected pro-Iranian gunmen wounded seven Amal miltiamen near the village of Jibsheet, a Hezbollah stronghold.
The militiamen seriously wounded one of the car's occupants, who was later identified as Ali Kansou, a member of Hezbollah, police said.
Inter-Shiite tension has been escalating in the Jibsheet area, 37 miles southeast of Beirut, since Amal encircled the Hezbollah stronghold Tuesday, suspecting that Higgins was being held in the village.