The U.S. State Department labeled Lebanon’s former information and tourism minister, Michel Samaha, as a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” on Monday for conspiring with Syria’s Assad regime to carry out terrorist attacks in Lebanon.
The Treasury Department also blacklisted Samaha for undermining Lebanon’s democracy, contributing to the breakdown of the rule of law and for “supporting the reassertion of Syrian control.”
Samaha was abducted by Lebanese authorities in August 2012 and charged with plotting to assassinate political and religious figures on behalf of the Syrian regime in an attempt to incite sectarian clashes. Shortly after being arrested and confronted with the evidence against him, Samaha “admitted to complicity in the plot.”
In July 2012, according to a State Department press release, former Syrian intelligence chief and current head of the national security bureau, Ali Mamluk, provided Samaha with the explosives to conduct the attacks.
The designations freeze Samaha’s assets subject to U.S. jurisdiction and prohibit all American citizens from conducting business with him.
Samaha, a Lebanese Christian, was elected to parliament in 1992 and served as information minister under former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri from 1992 to 1995 and from 2003 to 2004, according to The Daily Star. Hariri himself was killed in a car bombing in Beirut in 2005 which many blame on the Syrian government.
Al Arabiya reported in August of this year that Samaha was a confidante of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and one of the closest aides to the Assad family since the time of late President Hafez al-Assad. He was obsessed with secrecy and clandestine actions and tried to help strengthen the regional influence of Hezbollah.
Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Saad Hariri accused Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah of wanting to avoid parliamentary elections and claimed that Nasrallah was “betting on a civil war in Syria.”
This latest move by the U.S. comes on the heels of the State Department designating as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) the al Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front, which is considered one of the most potent Syrian resistance factions.
The Obama administration has intensified efforts to influence the configuration of Syria's post-Assad political landscape by isolating jihadist elements on the ground, unifying Western-friendly rebel factions and piecing together a more moderate political opposition, as the noose tightens around Damascus.