Arrest warrants issued in Lebanon for 2 Russians suspected of spying for Israel

BEIRUT (AP) — Two Russian citizens who were recently detained in Beirut on suspicion of spying for Israel have been referred to an investigative military judge who issued arrest warrants for them, two judicial officials said Monday.

The two Russians were detained “several weeks ago” in Beirut as they were leaving the country through the capital’s Rafik Hariri International Airport, the officials said. The two judicial officials spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

The head of Lebanon’s General Security Directorate Maj. Gen. Elias Baisari announced Friday that two foreigners were detained while leaving Lebanon through the airport, describing them as “part of a network spying for Israel.” He did not give their identities or say when they were detained.

Russia’s Sputnik News on Saturday quoted “a Russian embassy source” as saying that the Russian consulate is trying to contact the detainees to know why they are being held. The Russian Embassy in Beirut refused to comment when contacted by The Associated Press adding that the Sputnik News report is accurate.

The officials said an investigative judge at the military tribunal, Fadi Sawwan, questioned the two and charged them with “crimes of dealing with the Israeli enemy by supplying security information that endangers Lebanon’s security.” He referred them to another judge to continue the investigation.

Lebanese or Arab citizens charged with spying for Israel can get up to a death sentence in Lebanon. Other nationals get harsh sentences.

The Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar said the two Russian citizens are a man and wife who were recruited by Israel’s intelligence service to go to Lebanon and collect information and take photos of facilities belonging to the militant group Hezbollah.

Lebanon and Israel have formally been at war since Israel’s creation in 1948.

Israel and Hezbollah fought to a draw in a month-long war in Lebanon in 2006. Hezbollah has in the past claimed downing Israeli drones, and Israel’s military also has said in the past that they have shot down Hezbollah drones.

Israel considers Hezbollah its most serious immediate threat, estimating it has some 150,000 rockets and missiles aimed at Israel.