Death penalty sought for radical Sunni cleric Assir

Assir is on the run

BEIRUT - Lebanon will seek the death penalty for a radical Sunni cleric who has been at large since deadly clashes between his followers and the army last year, a judicial source said Friday.
Military judge Riad Abu Ghida recommended seeking death sentences for Ahmad al-Assir and 53 others, including singer-turned-fundamentalist Fadel Shaker.
The sentences are being sought in connection with the summer clashes in the southern city of Sidon, which left at least 18 soldiers and 11 gunmen dead.
The suspects are accused of "having formed armed groups that attacked an institution of the state, the army, killed officers and soldiers, took explosive materials and light and heavy weapons and used them against the army," the indictment says.
The judicial source said Abu Ghida, the investigator responsible for recommending charges and penalties, has also recommended prison sentences for around 20 other people.
Assir and a number of his supporters, including Shaker, have been on the run since the clashes in June.
The cleric gained notoriety for his fierce opposition to Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah, particularly following the group's decision to back the Syrian regime in the country's civil war.
Hezbollah is a key supporter of President Bashar al-Assad and has sent fighters across the border to Syria to bolster regime forces which have been battling an uprising since March 2011.
Since becoming a fugitive, Assir has released a number of audio recordings and several tweets renewing his criticism of Hezbollah, its ally Iran.
He has also accused the Lebanese army of failing to protect the country's Sunnis.
Syria's conflict, pitting a Sunni-dominated uprising against Assad, who is a member of the Alawite community, and his regime has deepened existing tensions in Lebanon.