Trip of Death & Mystery!!!
By: Colonel Charbel Barakat
The Lebanese people are well known for their
spirit of adventure and world-wide travel which, for the past 6000 years,
made them emigrate, explore, and settle every continent on the planet.
Lebanese from coastal cities like Tyre and Sidon were the founders of
hundreds of new settlements all around the Mediterranean shores, Europe
and Africa. Lebanese adventurers have been active and prominent
participants in the population of many countries from Australia to Sweden
and from California to China.
Thousands of Lebanese immigrants settled in the African continent,
established very successful businesses and actively participated in its
development and urbanization. These immigrants worked hard and were very
supportive and helpful to their parents and relatives back home in
occupied Lebanon, especially during the last 13 years during which Lebanon
experienced enormous hardships and poverty because of the Stalinist
Baathist occupation and its Lebanese puppet regime.
The Lebanese in Africa are the second closest to the motherland after
those residing and working in the Arabian Gulf, and, like them, they have
maintained very close ties and relations with Lebanon. In this context, it
is not strange to learn that some of them have set a charter aviation line
between West Africa and Beirut.
Although it is not unusual for airplane accidents to take place, what is
strange though about this past Christmas eve plane crash in Cotonou,
Benin, are the suspicious facts that led to the accident and those that
followed its occurrence. Meanwhile, as sad as we can be for the death of
the plane owners' family members and other people in the accident, we
still have to explore all the facts that led to this catastrophe.
One can understand the financial greed behind overloading the airplane
with 161 passengers, while its maximum capacity is limited to only 122.
But what is indeed very suspicious and raises many genuine questions is
the relatively huge excess weight of nine metric tons that was loaded on
the plane. It is also understandable that in a Third-World country like
Benin, poor airport administration would justify the absence of the names
of forty additional passengers from the flight manifest, but what could
not be comprehended is how these passengers would have been dealt with
upon their arrival at Beirut Airport, and who actually would have covered
their illegal entry into Lebanon. The scary question that comes
automatically to mind is: If somebody can so easily hide forty passengers
in an airplane, what else can he hide in the cargo???
The news agencies stated that a sum of eight to nine million dollars in
cash were with the passengers of the airplane. One wonders why such an
amount of cash money was being carried from Benin to Beirut?
Among the names of the crash victims is the name of Sheik Ali Khatoun, a
prominent figure in the Shiite terrorist group Hizbollah. Numerous
Syrians, Palestinians, Iranians and Lebanese who are well known with their
close ties to Hizbollah were also among the dead. Isn't it therefore
logical to make the leap and guess that the names of all those Hizbollah
personnel were those missing from the flight manifest? And if so, were
they on a special mission in West Africa, or they were they just ordinary
In addition to the above serious questions that raise one's suspicions as
to potential funny business going on, comes the massive involvement of the
Lebanese government. For first time ever, Beirut sent not only a high
ranking official to assist the government of Benin in its investigations,
but also rushed a team of physicians and nurses, in addition to an army
team of scuba divers who was the first military force to look for
survivors and for the remnants of the airplane - including its black box.
The Beirut government did not ask the French or the Americans who have
their own fleets off the coast of Africa for help, nor did it ask the UN
who has forces in neighboring counties. Beirut send its Minister of
Foreign Affairs, Mr. Jean Obeid, escorted by at least one high-ranking
Hizbollah representative. Some even believe that the contingent of
Lebanese Army scuba divers included several Hizbollah militia members.
Why this rush? And what was on the airplane that the Beirut government was
trying to hide from exposure? Was there something smuggled in the plane
cargo that Hizbollah and the Syrian-installed regime in Beirut were trying
to cover up, or was it just the cash that they were trying to recover?
It is no secret that Hizbollah has been generating vast amounts of cash
money from Lebanese immigrants in Africa and other Diaspora countries,
especially from Lebanese Shiite immigrant areas of concentration in Africa
and South America. Those who pay Hizbollah do so because of intimidation,
harassment and actual threats related to their families in Lebanon and in
particular in South Lebanon. According to reports published in the Kuwaiti
newspaper "Al-Syassah", and based on a intelligence services reports from
London, Hizbullah is one of the worldwide leading terrorist groups that
are engaged in generating and laundering money specifically from African
and South American sources after it was banned from both the US and
Canada. In addition, there have been reports in the aftermath of September
11, 2001, indicating that Hizbollah might have been using the diamond
trade in West Africa to generate millions of dollars that financed its
operations in Lebanon and the Middle East.
There is no doubt that the large sum of cash that Sheik Ali Khatoun and
his companions were carrying on them was destined for Hizbullah operations
in Lebanon, but is it only the money they were transporting?
A simple mathematical calculation shows that the weight of forty
passengers with their luggage will not exceed four tons, so what can
account for the extra load of five tons in the doomed plane? If Hizbollah
was transporting something else besides the cash, what could that cargo be
for it to weigh five tons?
As reported by the media, the airplane was scheduled to stop in Libya for
refueling? Is there any connection between the missing forty extra
passengers whose names were in the manifest and the new pro-Western
orientation in Libyan policy?
Was the camouflage of the names aimed at avoiding any possible arrests by
Could the five tons of extra cargo, consisting of explosives or other
weapons materiel, specifically placed on the plane in order for the Libyan
authorities to uncover them in a bid to show Colonel Qaddafi's regime as a
target because of its new policies? Or was someone actually planning a
terrorist attack against Libya, especially that the Lebanese Shiite
community blames Qaddafi for the disappearance of the Shiite leader Imam
Moussa Sadr while on a visit to Libya in 1978?
Many questions remain unanswered, and most probably will never be answered.
Meanwhile, Lebanese immigrants who were on their way to Lebanon to
celebrate Christmas and the New Year with their families back home are the
actual victims. Until information from reliable sources uncovers what the
plane was carrying and why the extra cargo wasn't left for another flight
that could handle it, the victims' souls will not rest and the Lebanese
will keep looking for the truth behind the crash. For those who expect the
Lebanese judiciary system to solve this mystery, we assure them that their
expectations will remain mere illusions.