Lebanon’s former information minister arrested for bomb plot

Lebanese security forces arrested the former information minister of Lebanon and close ally of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad on Thursday. Michel Samaha, who served as minister of information under the late Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, was detained on what appears to be suspicion of being involved in a plot to detonate a number of explosives near the Lebanese-Syrian border.

Lebanon's Daily Star reported that Samaha was awakened in the middle of the night by police from the Internal Security Forces branch of information, who proceeded to raid his house and remove several items, including his wife's car. This prompted a flurry of speculation by local media outlets that he had been involved in an assassination plot against a member of parliament, while other news organizations claimed that Samaha had been arrested for collaborating with Israel. However, Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who is a member of the Hezbollah-backed March 8 alliance, made a statement denying that Samaha's arrest was linked to espionage.

According to the Daily Star, 20 "highly effective" remote bombs were found in several areas of Northern Lebanon. They were diffused and brought to Beirut by explosive experts.

The Guardian reported that in 2007, Samaha was put on a White House list of Lebanese and Syrian figures working to undermine the pro-Western March 14-dominated government that was ruling at the time.

The war in Syria has been bleeding into northern Lebanon in recent months, with a number of skirmishes taking place between Syrian and Lebanese security forces as well as cross-border shelling. The Syrian government has accused towns in the north of Lebanon of harboring rebels..

However, the March 8 coalition of the Lebanese government has remained a staunch supporter of Assad's embattled regime. In contrast, the March 14 party has been extremely vocal in its espousal of the Syrian opposition's cause.

Samaha's arrest highlights the deep division that permeates the Lebanese government, especially where Syria is concerned.



A congressman's secret trip to Cyprus

The New York Times reports on some creative travel accounting by a Staten Island congressman: 

When Representative Michael G. Grimm, a first-term Staten Island Republican, went on a fact-finding trip abroad last year, he widely publicized his first stop, Israel, sending off a stream of messages about his activities there via Twitter. But he was largely silent about his second stop, Cyprus.

In fact, Mr. Grimm did not file required paperwork about the trip, which was paid for by a private organization, with the House clerk, according to Congressional records. Nor did he initially report the Cyprus trip on his Congressional financial disclosure filing in May, even though he did list the Israel trip, according to the records.

But in June, Mr. Grimm amended his financial disclosure filing to report the Cyprus trip, the records show. The amended filing came one day after his host on the trip, Peter Papanicolaou, the president of the Cyprus Federation of America, which paid for the $6,890 visit, was arrested in Brooklyn on federal corruption charges.

According to Grimm's office, the discosure had nothing to do with the arrest. But a month before the congressman, who is also being investigated for accepting illegal campaign donations, left for Cyprus, he issued a press release saying he would "co-sponsor a bill to help give Americans who own property in what the release called “Turkish-Occupied Cyprus” recourse to seek restitution for the “illegal use and occupation of their property.""

Influence peddling seems to work best on the issues the public pays the least attention to. In American politics, Cyprus policy would seem to be a pretty good example.