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Lebanon summons US ambassador over release of 'Butcher of Khiam'

Hezbollah's Nasrallah says group had no prior knowledge of Amer Fakhoury's release or transfer to US
Protesters hold mock gallows outside military court during hearing of Amer Fakhoury in Beirut last September (Reuters/File photo)

Lebanon's foreign minister summoned the US ambassador on Friday to discuss how a US citizen accused of war crimes was transferred out of the country from the American embassy.

Lebanese Foreign Minister Nassif Hitti sought an explanation from Ambassador Dorothy Shea on the "circumstances leading Amer Fakhoury out of the American embassy in Awkar, and out of Lebanon," the country's official news agency NNA said

Fakhoury had taken refuge in the embassy on Monday, after a military court dropped charges of killing and torturing detainees at Khiam Prison during the Israeli occupation before 2000.

Before Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, Fakhoury had served at the Israeli-backed Khiam Prison, where former detainees say he was involved in torture. He was known as the "Butcher of Khiam," but his family denies that he dealt directly with prisoners. 

'We have rejected dropping the charges against Fakhoury since day one,'

- Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah leader

The notorious detention facility was run by the South Lebanon Army, a pro-Israel militia, in coordination with the Israeli military.

Fakhoury fled Lebanon in 2000 and eventually settled in New Hampshire, where he became an American citizen. He was arrested in Lebanon last September after returning to visit the country.

US legislators had been ramping up pressure for Fakhoury's release. Last month, senators introduced a bipartisan bill to impose sanctions on officials involved in his imprisonment. 

Amid the mounting pressure, Fakhoury, who suffers from cancer, was cleared of all charges because his supposed crimes occurred decades ago - beyond Lebanon's 10-year statute of limitations on torture.

US President Donald Trump thanked the Lebanese government for securing his release, but many officials in Beirut insisted that there was no deal with Washington.

Still, advocates of former prisoners remained hopeful, as a judge imposed a travel ban on Fakhoury.

No prior knowledge

But early on Thursday, US officials confirmed that Fakhoury was en route to America after Lebanese media outlets published photos of a military aircraft leaving Washington's embassy in Beirut.

Trump thanks Lebanon after 'Butcher of Khiam' is released to US
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The incident opened up Hezbollah - a foe of Washington and a major force in the Lebanese government - to criticism from opponents and allies alike.

On Friday, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah dismissed detractors, insisting that the group had no prior knowledge of Fakhoury's release or transfer to the US.

He accused Washington of using an "illegitimate port of entry" to "smuggle out" Fakhoury.

"We have rejected dropping the charges against Fakhoury since day one… The state is not Hezbollah's state, neither is the judiciary, not the military court," Nasrallah said in a televised speech.