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A Mysterious Village Murder Raises Questions In Lebanon

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KAHALEH, Lebanon: When Joe Bejjany was shot with a silencer as he got ready to take his two daughters to pre-school, it shocked not only his mountain village but a country already on edge.

No clear motive has so far surfaced for the murder of the 36-year-old Lebanese telecoms employee and freelance photographer on Monday. But that did not stop local media and people wondering aloud whether it was linked to an ongoing investigation into August’s devastating blast at Beirut port.

Residents of Kahaleh, some 13 km (8 miles) from Beirut, say they want a swift investigation into what they believe was a planned operation of some kind or another.

“This is not just about our village. Because today it’s Joe, tomorrow it’s someone else,” said Jean Bejjany, the head of the municipal council and a distant relative. “Are we going to have to protect our own houses and villages?”

A number of recent murky deaths have fuelled similar rumours of links to the explosion, even as security officials say they have no evidence of a connection.

Nearly five months since the huge stockpile of chemicals, stored unsafely for years, detonated at the port, that inquiry has yet to yield public results. The blast killed 200 people and ravaged swathes of the capital, compounding a financial meltdown that has also triggered generalised fears over security.

Earlier this month, authorities pledged to probe the death of a retired customs officer who was found dead in his home.

Jean, Kahaleh’s municipal chief, said none of Joe’s friends or family were aware of any threats or enemies and made no mention of anything that might link him to the explosion.

The two hooded gunmen took Joe’s phone before sneaking away, he said. His daughters, aged two and four, found the dead body in the car minutes later.

Mounir Bejjany, Joe’s godfather, described it as “an assassination”.

Relatives said Joe, who worked at a mobile service provider, had also photographed military events such as parades as a freelancer. Other photographers said they often saw him at such events.

Two security sources said the murder was carried out in a professional manner but the motive was unclear. The caretaker interior minister has vowed to find the culprits.

At the funeral on Tuesday, neighbours wept and threw rice as men in suits carried a white coffin to the church.

Joe’s cousin, Gaby Feghali, said he had planned to emigrate with his family, like many others who are leaving Lebanon to escape the crisis. He said Joe got approval to leave for Canada about a week ago.

(Editing by Philippa Fletcher)

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