Lebanese in Shock Over Arrest of an Accused Spy
Lebanese in Shock Over Arrest of an Accused Spy
By ROBERT F. WORTH
The New York Times, February 18, 2009
MARAJ, Lebanon — For 25 years, Ali al-Jarrah managed to live on both sides of the bitterest divide running through this region. To friends and neighbors, he was an earnest supporter of the Palestinian cause, an affable, white-haired family man who worked as an administrator at a nearby school.
To Israel, he appears to have been a valued spy, sending reports and taking clandestine photographs of Palestinian groups and Hezbollah since 1983.
Now he sits in a Lebanese prison cell, accused by the authorities of betraying his country to an enemy state. Months after his arrest, his friends and former colleagues are still in shock over the extent of his deceptions: the carefully disguised trips abroad, the unexplained cash, the secret second wife.
Lebanese investigators say he has confessed to a career of espionage spectacular in its scope and longevity, a real-life John le Carré novel. Many intelligence agents are said to operate in the civil chaos of Lebanon, but Mr. Jarrah’s arrest has shed a rare light onto a world of spying and subversion that usually persists in secret.
Mr. Jarrah’s first wife maintains that he was tortured, and is innocent; requests to interview him were denied.
From his home in this Bekaa Valley village, Mr. Jarrah, 50, traveled often to Syria and to south Lebanon, where he photographed roads and convoys that might have been used to transport weapons to Hezbollah, the Shiite militant group, investigators say. He spoke with his handlers by satellite phone, receiving “dead drops” of money, cameras and listening devices. Occasionally, on the pretext of a business trip, he traveled to Belgium and Italy, received an Israeli passport, and flew to Israel, where he was debriefed at length, investigators say.
At the start of the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, Israeli officials called Mr. Jarrah to reassure him that his village would be spared and that he should stay at home, investigators said.
He was finally arrested last July by Hezbollah, which now has perhaps the most powerful intelligence apparatus in this country. It handed him to the Lebanese military — along with his brother Yusuf, who is accused of helping him spy — and he awaits trial by a military court.
Several current and former military officials agreed to provide details about his case on condition of anonymity, saying they were not authorized to discuss it before the trial began. Their accounts tallied with details provided by Mr. Jarrah’s relatives and former colleagues.
Mark Regev, a spokesman for Israel’s prime minister, Ehud Olmert, declined to discuss Mr. Jarrah’s situation, saying, “It is not our practice to publicly talk about any such allegations in this case or in any case.”
Villagers here seemed incredulous that a man they knew all their lives could have taken money to spy for a country that they regard with unmixed hatred and disgust.
Many maintained his innocence. But Raja Mosleh, the Palestinian doctor who was his partner for years in a school and health clinic near here, did not.
“I never suspected him before,” Dr. Mosleh said. “But now, after linking all the incidents together, I feel he’s 100 percent guilty.”
“He used to talk about the Palestinian cause all the time, how he supported the cause, he supported the people, he liked everybody — this son of a dog,” Dr. Mosleh added, his voice thick with contempt.
Mr. Jarrah would often borrow money to buy cigarettes, apparently posing as a man of limited means. Investigators say he received more than $300,000 for his work from Israel.
Only recently did he begin to spend in ways that raised questions. About six years ago, neighbors said, he built a three-story villa with a terra-cotta roof that is by far the grandest house in this modest village of low concrete dwellings. Outside is a small roofed archway and a heavy iron gate, and on a recent day a German shepherd stood guard.
Dr. Mosleh asked him where he got the money, and Mr. Jarrah said he got help from a daughter living in Brazil. It is a natural excuse in Lebanon, where a large portion of the population receives remittances from relatives abroad.
Mr. Jarrah also had a secret second wife, according to investigators and his former colleagues. Unlike his first wife, Maryam Shmouri al-Jarrah, who lived in relative grandeur with their five children in Maraj, the second wife lived in a cheap apartment in the town of Masnaa, near the Syrian border. This apparently allowed Mr. Jarrah to travel near the border in the unremarkable guise of a local working-class man.
Mr. Jarrah has said he was recruited in 1983 — a year after Israel began a major invasion of Lebanon — by Israeli officers who had imprisoned him, according to investigators. He was offered regular payments in exchange for information about Palestinian militants and Syrian troop movements, they said.
After Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000, thousands of Lebanese from the occupied zone in the south were tried and sentenced — mostly to light prison terms — for collaborating with Israel.
Far from the border, a different class of collaborators, rooted in their communities, persisted. A few have been caught and sentenced.
Mr. Jarrah’s motives remain a mystery. He said he tried to stop, but the Israelis would not let him, investigators said.
It all came to an end last summer. He went on a trip to Syria in July, and when he returned he said he had been briefly detained by the Syrian police, his first wife said. He seemed very uneasy, not his usual self, she said.
He left the house that night, saying he was going to Beirut, and never returned, Mrs. Jarrah said. Only three months later did she get a call from the Lebanese Army saying it had taken custody of him.
A few weeks ago, Mrs. Jarrah said, she was allowed to see him. He looked terrible, exhausted, she said.
Lebanese security forces released a photograph of Mr. Jarrah, taken before his arrest. In it, he appears against a blue and white backdrop, dressed in a formal dark shirt, wearing an enigmatic smile.
Hwaida Saad contributed reporting from Beirut, Lebanon, and Ethan Bronner from Jerusalem.
Note by webmaster: There is no evidence that Ziad Jarrah participated in the attacks of September 11, 2001. The US authorities have never produced any authenticated document that placed Ziad Jarrah in an aircraft designated as Flight UA93, nor has anyone seen him board that flight. For details see Chapter 2 of Elias Davidsson’s “Hijacking America’s Mind on 9/11 (Algora Publishers, New York, 2013).