BEIRUT -- A military prosecutor has charged 35 Arab nationals and alleged members of an Al Qaeda-linked terror group with plotting to bomb foreign targets in Lebanon, including the Italian and Ukrainian diplomatic missions, judicial officials said yesterday.
Only nine of the 35 defendants are in police custody, the officials said on condition of anonymity. The remaining suspects, including Lebanese, Saudis, Palestinians, and Syrians, remain at large.
Lebanese police, in cooperation with Italian intelligence authorities, arrested 10 Lebanese men Sept. 17 over alleged plots to bomb the Italian and Ukrainian diplomatic missions in Beirut, assassinate Western diplomats, and attack Lebanese security facilities.
One of the 10 detainees, Ismail Mohammed al-Khatib, died in custody last week from what police said was a heart attack. Following his death, thousands of Khatib supporters denounced Lebanese authorities, plus the United States and Israel.
Beirut military court judge Jean Fahd issued an indictment sheet Wednesday laying out the charges and accusations against the 35 suspects.
Of the 26 suspects at large, four are Saudis, five Palestinians, and three Syrians. The rest are either Lebanese citizens or people whose nationalities are unknown.
Fahd accused the suspects of obtaining weapons and explosives to ''carry out terrorist acts . . . [by] targeting some foreign interests and security centers, including the Italian Embassy in Beirut and Ukrainian consulate," plus local security targets.
The judge said that the suspects intended to use car bombs and other explosives to carry out the attacks.
Among the nine Lebanese men in custody is Ahmed Salim Mikati, who Lebanese officials have described as a mastermind of the plots and one of Lebanon's most dangerous criminals, who was allegedly trying to establish Al Qaeda cells in the country.
Mikati, 36, from northern Lebanon and the other detained suspects will be tried by a military court and if found guilty could face life in prison with hard labor. No trial date has been set.
Mikati was known to be hiding in the Ein el-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp on the outskirts of Sidon, in southern Lebanon.