By Loveday Morris
Washington Post, December 16, 2013
"One man was dragged from his taxi. Eight others were ordered off a bus on their way home from work. The victims were shot in the legs by masked gunmen, a brutal tactic that officials say has been used on dozens of members of Tripoli's minority Alawite community in recent months. The intimidation campaign is the latest spillover from neighboring Syria's long-running civil war, which has been recreated in microcosm in this impoverished port city, Lebanon's second-largest. Alawite residents of the Jabal Mohsen neighborhood who back Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a fellow Alawite, have frequently clashed with Sunni residents of nearby Bab al-Tabbaneh, who support the Syrian rebels. In August, two Sunni mosques were bombed, killing more than 40 people; Alawite leader Ali Eid was charged with aiding one of the suspects. A few days after the bombings, taxi driver Ali Assi, another Alawite, became the first targeted shooting victim. Assi was driving in Bab al-Tabbaneh when his vehicle was stopped by gunmen. He wouldn't normally consider it safe to drive through the Sunni neighborhood, he said, but it was early in the morning, and he thought the risk was minimal. 'They started beating me and telling me the Alawites shouldn’t be in Lebanon,' Assi said. 'They put me in the back of the car.' He was driven to an open patch of land by a nearby traffic circle and released. When he started to run, the gunmen opened fire. Assi took 13 bullets in the legs and lower back.
Rifaat Eid, Ali Eid's son and the political chief of the Alawite Arab Democratic Party, said 38 Alawites have been attacked since the mosque bombings. Many were pulled from their vehicles on the way to or from work. The number was confirmed by a senior Lebanese security official, who said at least 25 of the victims were intentionally shot in the legs. The shootings, reminiscent of 'kneecapping' tactics once used by paramilitaries in Northern Ireland and Italy, have created a siege mentality within the Alawite community, with increasing numbers of men afraid to leave their neighborhood. 'We were coming back from work in Beirut and they stopped our bus,' recalled Ali Mazloum, one of the eight men targeted in a single incident last month. 'They knew we were from Jabal Mohsen. They told us to get down off the bus and then they started shooting at us. As each one came off, they shot him with a pistol in the legs.' With a bone shattered and one of his legs pinned inside a metal cage for a year, Mazloum, 38, is unable to return to his job in a fast-food chicken restaurant. He doesn’t know whether he will walk again. He sees the attack as part of a concerted campaign to permanently disable men of fighting age, so they can't participate in clashes or work. Several arrests have been made in connection with the shooting, but Mazloum complains that the process has been slow. 'It's part of a siege on the area,' said Mazloum. 'Fifty percent used to go out and work outside. Now, of course, they are scared.' [...]"