Lebanon has arrested a second employee of the state-owned mobile telecom Alfa on suspicion of spying for Israel.
The suspect, Tareq Raba, was described as a transmissions engineer who was "more dangerous" than Charbel Qazzi, a telecom technician who was arrested last month, Lebanese security sources said yesterday. If convicted, both men could face the death penalty.
The sources said Raba had been an Alfa employee since 1996 and began working for Israeli intelligence in 2001. He would leave Lebanon twice a month and return every time with at least $10,000 in cash, they said.
The arrests are part of a broad espionage investigation, which has led to more than 50 arrests since April of last year.
Israel has not commented on the arrests.
Lebanon said the arrests were a major blow to Israel's intelligence gathering, and that suspects helped identify targets in Lebanon that Israel bombed during its 2006 war with the militant group Hezbollah.
The Lebanese newspaper Al-Safir reported that Raba, 40, had access to the company's most confidential technical details, including the location of its transmitters.
Lebanese intelligence sources refused to say whether Raba's arrest was a result of Qazzi's interrogation, but said Qazzi had provided Israel with access to all the company's departments. This enabled Israeli intelligence to monitor mobile phone users and trace them, Al-Safir said.
Qazzi also enabled his Israeli operators to insert viruses into Lebanon's communication systems and paralyze them at will or delete entire files.
Qazzi's arrest last month sent shock waves through Lebanon, as the owners of the country's telecom companies are said to be closely connected to the government. The arrest prompted a debate on how deeply Israel had infiltrated the country's telecoms and security sectors.
President Michel Suleiman, who under Lebanese law must sign a death sentence before it is carried out, has called for severe punishment for spies. The cabinet also agreed that death sentences should be handed down for anyone spying for Israel.
Defense Minister Elias Murr confirmed "a new arrest" at a cabinet meeting late Wednesday, State Minister Jean Ogassapian told reporters in response to a question.
In a television interview yesterday, Telecommunications Minister Charbel Nahhas said there was a "high probability of a crack" in Lebanon's telecom network.
"The ministry is setting up a preliminary safety network to lock the doors that may have been leaking information," he added. Qazzi is charged with "entering enemy territory, collaborating with Israel and providing it with information."
Lebanon has arrested dozens of people on suspicion of spying for Israel, including security officials, since it launched its crackdown in April 2009.
Two Lebanese citizens have since been sentenced to death for "collaborating with Israel and providing information on targets" inside Lebanon. In June last year Lebanon complained to the UN of Israel's intelligence operations and said it had arrested 35 Lebanese and Palestinian members of an Israeli spy ring.
"Israel is setting up terror cells that operate independently in Lebanon, carrying out terror acts and surveilling people and facilities for gathering sensitive information," Lebanon's UN ambassador wrote to the institution's secretary general at the time.
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