Lebanon summons US envoy over ex-militiaman's flight

US citizen Amer Fakhoury is a reviled figure for many Lebanese due to his alleged collaboration with Israel during its occupation of southern Lebanon.

BEIRUT - Lebanon's foreign minister summoned the US ambassador Friday over the return of a naturalised American former militiaman accused of torture to the United States despite a travel ban, state media said.

Amer al-Fakhoury, a former member of the South Lebanon Army (SLA), went into exile more than two decades ago before returning to Lebanon in September, when he was arrested. He is a reviled figure for many Lebanese due to his alleged collaboration with Israel during its occupation of southern Lebanon.

The 57-year-old was released on Monday over a statute of limitations on his alleged crimes, a judicial source said, though put under a travel ban, according to state media.

On Thursday, US President Donald Trump hailed Fakhoury's return to the United States, saying he was suffering from late-stage cancer.

On Friday, Lebanon's Foreign Minister Nassif Hitti asked US ambassador Dorothy Shea to explain "the circumstances of Amer Fakhoury being transferred abroad from the US embassy," the National News Agency said.

A security source said on Thursday that Fakhoury left the country in a helicopter from the US embassy heading to an unknown destination, but the embassy did not comment on the report.

When Fakhoury was arrested, a Lebanese security source said he had served as a senior warden in the notorious Khiyam prison, opened in 1984 by the Christian-dominated and Israel-backed SLA after Israel occupied southern Lebanon.

Witnesses accuse Fakhoury of ordering or taking part in the kidnapping, beating and murder of thousands of people. He fled Lebanon to Israel on May 27, 2000 and from there moved to the United States where he became a resident of Nebraska.

The militiaman's release by a military court on Monday prompted huge criticism on social media. Powerful Shiite movement Hezbollah, largely credited with Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000, said it would be more honourable for the judges involved to resign rather that "succumb to the pressures that led to this decision".

On Friday, the head of the military tribunal resigned over the criticism.

Others in Lebanon and some analysts, however, have speculated that Fakhoury's release may have been negotiated between the Trump administration and the Lebanese government after a meeting between Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil - a Hezbollah ally reviled by the country's anti-corruption protest movement - and US officials in December.

The Trump administration had been consistently pressuring Lebanon for Fakhoury's release before that meeting, but the Lebanese judiciary also faced significant public pressure to keep him behind bars due to his role in the torture of people fighting against Israel's occupation, detained illegally and with support from Tel Aviv.