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Prominent Hezbollah critic Lokman Slim found dead in his car in Lebanon

A prominent Lebanese publisher and vocal critic of the Shiite militant Hezbollah group was found dead in his car on Thursday morning, with multiple wounds from gunshots fired at close range, security and forensic officials said. Lokman Slim, a 58-year-old longtime Shiite political activist and researcher, had been missing for hours since late Wednesday and his family posted social media messages looking for him.

He was visiting friends in a southern village and was expected back in Beirut the same day.

Lebanon Slim
The body of Lokman Slim lies on the ground as Lebanese security forces inspect the scene in Addoussieh village, in the southern province of Nabatiyeh, Lebanon, Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021. Mohammed Zaatari / AP

To his friends, Slim was a fearless critic of Lebanon's powerful politicians, Hezbollah and its allies Iran and Syria, and a major resource on the history of Lebanon's civil war. His killing raised fears that Lebanon's political tensions could turn into a new wave of assassinations.

Critics, however, accused Slim of sowing sedition, undermining national unity and being a Zionist because of his criticisms of Hezbollah.

"He was carrying the weight of this country on his shoulder," his sister Rasha al-Ameer told reporters at their home after the news his killing broke. She said she has no faith in local investigations and that the family would carry out its own private forensic probe.

"Up until today in the history of Lebanon, all investigations have led to a dead end," she told reporters. His wife Monika Borgmann called for an international probe.

Security forces found Slim's car on a rural road near the southern village of Addoussieh, in Sidon province.

Afif Khafajeh, a coroner who inspected Slim's body, said he was shot with six bullets — three to the head, one to the chest and one to the back. Blood was splattered over the passenger car seat.

Lokman Slim, an activist and publisher who ran a research centre, speaks during an interview in Beirut
Lokman Slim speaks during an interview, in a still image taken from Reuters TV footage shot on February 2, 2009, in Beirut, Lebanon. REUTERS TV / REUTERS

A security official at the scene said Slim's ID, phone and gun were missing. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations. His phone was later found. A resident of Addoussieh, who declined to provide his name, said the car was found on the rural road before midnight.

Lebanon has a history of political crimes and violence. With rising tension amid deepening political dispute and economic crisis, officials have warned of a return of violence and assassinations.

Earlier, Slim's wife and sister had posted on social media that he had not answered his phone for hours and hadn't been seen since Wednesday evening. Al-Ameer said he was visiting friends in the south and left their house after 8 pm. The family began to worry when two hours later when he still wasn't back home.

Al-Ameer hinted that Hezbollah was behind the killing, without naming the group and only saying thet the killers "have implicated themselves." The party that controls the area where her brother was killed "is known," she said, adding, "killing for them is a habit." Hezbollah and its allies dominate the area in southern Lebanon.

Interior Minister Mohammad Fahmi, speaking to local TV station MTV, called it a "horrific crime." Caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab deplored the "heinous crime" and vowed a speedy investigation.

In Lebanon, perpetrators of political violence or corruption are almost never uncovered or prosecuted. An investigation into the massive explosion in the Beirut port that killed 211 people and disfigured the capital last August still has not uncovered what caused it and who is responsible.

The U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Jan Kubis said he was "greatly disturbed by the tragic loss" of Slim, calling on the Lebanese authorities to carry out a speedy investigation.

"This investigation must not follow the pattern of the Beirut port blast investigation that 6 months on remains inconclusive and without accountability. People must know the truth," Kubis tweeted.

French ambassador Anne Grillo also called the killing an assassination, sending her condolences to the family in a tweet.

Slim was born in Beirut's southern suburbs, a Hezbollah stronghold, and returned there during the 2006 war with Israel, when the suburbs were being bombed. He later continued to live there with his family.

He founded Umam, a research and film production house with a library documenting Lebanon's and Shiite history. His family owns a publishing house and Slim hosted public debates and political forums and art shows, including exhibitions documenting the civil war's missing. He and his wife worked on a film documenting the atrocities of Syria's notorious Tadmor prison.

In 2009, he and his wife organized a private viewing at their center for an Oscar-nominated anti-war Israeli cartoon about Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon and the rise of the then-President Bachir Gemayel, in defiance of Hezbollah and Lebanese authorities, which banned it.

Slim also set up Haya Bina, or "Let's go," a group that encouraged participation in 2005 parliamentary elections, called for changes to Lebanon's sectarian-based system and taught women English.

"It is a big tragedy," said Makram Rabah, a close friend and history lecturer. "Anyone who knows Lokman they know who his enemies are."

Rabah said he and Slim were strong opponents of Hezbollah's grip on power and called for sovereignty and diversity in Lebanon. They were both attacked by a group of young men during a public debate at the height of anti-government protests in 2019. Slim at the time accused Hezbollah supporters of being behind the attack.

Slim also accused Hezbollah supporters in 2019 of threatening him at his home, holding rallies and hanging posters on its walls accusing him of treason.

Alex Rowell, editor of the English language al-Jumhuriya website, said Slim always believed he is safe from physical harm. His killing would leave many unable to sleep easily in Lebanon, Rowell said.

"In the memory of Lokman's fearless grin, however, they may find courage - and in the silhouettes of his cowardly murderers they may know their enemy," he said.

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