American citizen released from Lebanese prison, returning to US
An American citizen jailed in Lebanon was released and is returning to the U.S., six months after he was detained on charges criticized as illegal, President Trump announced Thursday.
“Today we are bringing home another American citizen, Amer Fakhoury,” Trump said in a briefing with reporters.
Fakhoury is a naturalized U.S. citizen originally from Lebanon who is suffering from stage 4 lymphoma. He is a father of four and restaurant owner in New Hampshire. His family is with him in Lebanon and preparing to return to the U.S.
“It’s hard to put into words how grateful and relieved we are to finally be returning to the United States with Amer,” his family said in a statement. “We have been through a nightmare that we would never wish on anyone.”
Fakhoury was released from a Lebanese jail after a judge on Monday dismissed charges against him, saying they had passed the statute of limitations, according to multiple reports.
A former member of the South Lebanese Army (SLA), Fakhoury was detained in Beirut in September on allegations he oversaw the torture of Lebanese citizens during the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon in the 1980s and 1990s, where the SLA was operating backed by the Israeli army.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, advocated for Fakhoury’s release. She has criticized his detention as “unlawful.”
“Anytime a U.S citizen is wrongfully detained by a foreign government, we must use every tool at our disposal to free them,” said Shaheen.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the administration is “relieved to be able to welcome him back home.”
The success of securing Fakhoury’s release back to the U.S. has highlighted the plight of other Americans detained abroad, in particular as countries grapple with containing the spread of the coronavirus.
While Fakhoury’s release appeared to be unrelated to COVID-19, Pompeo announced on Thursday that an American in Iran was released on medical furlough and has increased calls for the release of detained Americans in the country.
Pompeo said in a statement that “Michael White, who has been wrongfully detained by the Iranian regime since 2018 and is serving a 13-year sentence, was released today on a medical furlough.” White was transferred to the Swiss Embassy for medical treatment and evaluation.
“We again call on the Iranian government to immediately release on humanitarian grounds Morad Tahbaz, Baquer Namazi, and Siamak Namazi. We also ask the regime to honor the commitment it made to work with the United States for the return of Robert Levinson,” the secretary added.
Iran has the third highest death toll from the coronavirus of infected countries, with at least 988 deaths, according to the World Health Organization. Italy surpassed China on Thursday for the highest death toll in the world, with 3,405 deaths from the virus.
Pompeo also raised the issue of Americans detained in Venezuela, a country in social and financial ruin that has recently acknowledged cases of COVID-19.
“With the Maduro regime now acknowledging that COVID-19 cases are appearing in Venezuela, we are extremely concerned about the risk for the five U.S. citizens and one U.S. resident from Citgo who are currently languishing in the notorious Helicoide prison in Caracas,” Pompeo said in a statement.
“These wrongfully detained men all have weakened immune systems due to cumulative health problems and face a grave health risk if they become infected. Seventeen hearings have been cancelled. They have already spent more than two years in jail without an ounce of evidence being brought against them; it is time to release them on humanitarian grounds.”
Trump on Thursday also said the U.S. is working to bring home Austin Tice from Syria. Tice is an American citizen and former U.S. Marine who was kidnapped while working as a journalist in Syria in August 2012.
“Recovering Americans held captive and imprisoned abroad continues to be a top priority for my administration,” Trump said. “We have one young gentleman, Austin Tice, and we’re working very hard with Syria to get him out. We hope the Syrian government will do that. We’re counting on them to do that.”
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