Hizbullah hands over chopper shooter

Group surrenders man who allegedly shot and killed Lebanese navigator; incident reportedly a mistake.

US chopper Iraq 88 (photo credit: )
US chopper Iraq 88
(photo credit: )
Hizbullah handed over a suspect who allegedly fired at a Lebanese army helicopter the previous day, a judicial official said Friday, amid media reports that the fatal shooting was a mistake by the terrorist group. Military court magistrate Jean Fahd refused to identify the suspect, but told The Associated Press that the man was surrendered to authorities by Hizbullah as the person who opened fire at the helicopter. A Lebanese army navigator was killed by the gunshots Thursday in the country's south and the helicopter was forced to make an emergency landing. Fahd's announcement came hours after a top Lebanese newspaper reported that Hizbullah had opened fire at the helicopter mistaking it for an Israeli craft. The As-Safir daily quoted unidentified "multiple sources" as saying that the gunmen mistook the helicopter for an Israeli aircraft dropping off soldiers in southern Lebanon. The paper often receives leaked information from the Shiite group. Hizbullah, meanwhile, described the incident in a statement Friday as "very unfortunate and painful." The group added the case was now in the hands of the judiciary and that Hizbullah would cooperate to the "maximum extent" with the army in the investigation. It did not say whether its members had been involved and would not comment further. The incident took place in Hizbullah's stronghold of Iqlim al-Tuffah where the group is believed to have bases and concealed positions. A senior military officer, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said the investigation was ongoing and there was no comment on the media report. Hundreds of people took part in the emotional funeral Friday of the slain navigator, 1st Lt. Samer Hanna, who was buried in his hometown of Tanourin, north of Beirut. Some in the angry crowd spoke out against Hizbullah, blaming it for the killing. Another daily, Al-Akhbar, said a joint committee of the Lebanese army and Hizbullah opened an investigation into the incident shortly after it happened. The shooting has raised political tensions in the country. If Hizbullah guerrillas were behind it, this could be used by the anti-Syrian parliamentary majority to increase their calls for Hizbullah to disarm. Strong Hizbullah critic and former legislator Fares Soeid asked whether the "Lebanese army needs permission to fly over Lebanese territories." Speaking Thursday to reporters, he wondered whether there is a "border between the state of Lebanon and the state of Hizbullah." Grand Mufti Mohammed Rashid Kabbani, the spiritual leader of Lebanon's Sunni Muslims, described the incident as "an aggression against the army." Defense Minister Elias Murr said he would accept "nothing less" than handing over and arresting the perpetrator. As-Safir said the shooting resulted from a "lack of coordination" on the helicopter flight. The Lebanese army and Hizbullah often inform each other of their movements.