Beirut killing of Frenchman linked to Paris bombings
| Nicosia, Cyprus
The French are on the receiving end of a wave of violence emanating from Lebanon. But most analysts of Lebanon do not detect a direct linkage between the bombing campaign in Paris and the series of attacks on French troops serving with UN peacekeeping forces in southern Lebanon.
Against the backdrop of violence came the killing Thursday of the French military attach'e in Beirut. The only claim of responsibility was made on behalf of the hitherto-unknown Justice and Revenge Organization. This did not shed much light on who killed Col. Christian Goutti`erre in Christian east Beirut.
In the absence of clearer indications, some observers view Colonel Goutti`erre's shooting in the context of the Paris bombings rather than the south Lebanon attacks. [Paris attacks point to state-supported terrorism. Story, Page 11.]
Goutti`erre's assassination came only hours after the Committee for Solidarity with Arab and Middle Eastern Political Prisoners -- which says it is behind the Paris bombings -- issued a warning in Beirut of increased attacks on France unless Paris released suspected terrorist Georges Ibrahim Abdallah and two other Middle Easterners from jail. The group also threatened attacks in the United States and Italy.
Mr. Abdallah, a Christian from northern Lebanon, is believed to have founded the Lebanese Armed Revolutionary Faction in 1980. Most of the faction's followers appear to be radical Christians with similar roots.
In July, France sentenced Abdallah to four years for illegal possession of arms and false papers. He faces separate charges for suspected complicity in the 1982 killings of an American diplomat and Israeli Embassy official in Paris. The Lebanese Armed Revolutionary Faction claimed responsibility for both killings.
The activities of this highly ideological group of mainly Christian political revolutionaries predate -- and have been quite distinct from -- the actions of the Iranian-inspired Shiite Muslim militants who are believed to be behind the wave of attacks on the French contingent of UNIFIL, the UN force in southern Lebanon.
The fact that Abdallah's group is largely Christian is one factor supporting some observers' view that the attack on the French attach'e was the work of his faction. It would be much easier for them to operate in Christian east Beirut, which is controlled by a Christian militia fiercely hostile to the Muslim extremists.
About the same time that Goutti`erre was shot Thursday, a French position near the south Lebanese village of Abbassiyeh was hit by Katyusha rockets fired from nearby hills. A French soldier was wounded. Such incidents have become commonplace in recent weeks, following the outbreak of a vendetta waged by radical Shiite elements. Remote-control bomb attacks have killed four French soldiers and an Irish officer since the tension began.
In an effort to defuse tension, the French contingent's vulnerable positions in radicalized Shiite villages will be taken over next week by Finnish, Nepalese, and Ghanaian UN forces.
The Iranian-inspired radical Shiite Hizbullah (Party of God) is widely held to be behind the campaign against UNIFIL and the French contingent. Taking their cue from Tehran, the Islamic radicals reject UNIFIL's presence as a ``shield for the Israelis.''
As well as attacking UNIFIL, the Islamic radicals have also stepped up attacks on Israel's self-proclaimed ``security zone,'' the border area manned by Israel and its ally, the South Lebanon Army militia.
On Thursday, for the second time in a week, Shiite fighters believed to be from Hizbullah attacked South Lebanon Army positions. The SLA said seven of its men were killed. As happened last week, the attack was followed by heavy reprisal shelling of Shiite areas.
Amal, the Syrian-backed mainstream Shiite movement, is also committed to ousting the Israelis from the border zone. But Amal is against such attacks, because of the heavy reprisals Israel has always warned would follow.
Amal has also come out in strong support of UNIFIL's role and presence and of France's participation in the force. On Wednesday, Amal organized processions throughout the south to demonstrate mass popular support for the international force.
Most south Lebanese villagers, as well as politicians in both Beirut and Damascus, reportedly fear that highly unstable conditions would ensue if continued attacks by Shiite radicals forced UNIFIL to withdraw.
The Syrian government took the unusual step Thursday of condemning the murder of the French attach'e and the attacks on UNIFIL. The statement said that France's Mideast policies were balanced and its positions in Lebanon positive, and that such attacks did not serve Lebanon's interests.
With Iran's followers cutting sharply across Syria's policies in Lebanon, there is speculation in Beirut that Syria may be preparing to deal a blow to the Islamic radicals, whose actions are reported to have made them increasingly isolated within the Shiite community.