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 passengers?

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 not 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 Libyan authorities?
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.