`I was forced to fight for Fatah Al-Islam` - Russian teen

A Russian teenager accused of belonging to a Palestinian militant group in Lebanon says he was forced to fight for Muslim extremists. Eighteen-year-old Sergey Vysotsky denies all charges against him and claims he travelled to Lebanon to study.

Vysotsky has appeared in court in Beirut for a preliminary hearing.

He was questioned in the presence of a Russian consulate representative and an interpreter.

Sergey Vysotsky has denied the charges against him, including terrorism, membership to an armed group and the killing of Lebanese soldiers. But he has admitted involvement in combat activities, saying he was forced to do so.

Although no extradition talks have yet taken place, it is still possible that he will be sent home for trial.

The Fatah Al-Islam group was involved in a three-month stand-off with the Lebanese Army in a Palestinian refugee camp near Tripoli.

Three other Russian citizens face the same charges, which include terrorism and membership of the Fatah Al-Islam militant group. There are all accused of killing Lebanese police and soldiers.

There are 330 additional people who are facing the same charges.

Refugees return to ruined camp

35,000 Palestinian refugees, including 45 Russian women who married Palestinians, lived in the Nahr Al-Bared camp.  When fighting broke out they were forced to leave. Now they're slowly returning. Starting on Wednesday, one hundred families a day are making their way back to the camp.

Local aid agencies estimate it will take months, even years, to rebuild the camp.  It was nearly destroyed in fighting between the Lebanese army and Fatah Al-Islam militants.

The first returnees pray that their homes have survived the violence.

Since May they’ve been living in overcrowded classrooms in the nearby Beddawi refugee camp.  That was already swamped in poverty before they arrived.

Ruined buildings in Nahr Al-Bared camp
Ruined buildings in Nahr Al-Bared camp


The refugees have no illusions.

Iman Abed Almouaati is returning with her husband and eight children.  She describes her life as a living nightmare.

“I want to go back, even if my house is under the floor. I imagine, and I know, it is very bad. The last three months here, especially, during Ramaddan, were terrible,” she said.

The refugees have nothing but the clothes on their backs and even these are handouts.

The last time they traveled this road was at night, on foot. They were fleeing gunfire.

Dr Raed El-Haj who studied in Russia for twelve years is one of the first to enter the camp. He walks around aimlessly, finding it difficult to recognize the streets he played on as a boy.

 “I’ve come here because I’m a doctor, I must help people. I was born here so I must come back. I saw the videos and the photographs, but when I see in reality what happened it’s like a tsunami or catastrophe. I’m afraid, I’m afraid of what the future holds. We must hold on and help each other,” he said.

Only paramedics and volunteer workers are being allowed to enter the Nahr Al-Bared camp.

Two doctors, graduates of Russian universities, are inside, attending to a handful of survivors who never left.

“You see families walking around, completely shell-shocked. It’s very badly damaged.  A lot of the houses are uninhabitable: no electricity, no running water. The houses have been looted and scorched, no windows or doors,” said Caoimhe Butterly from the Voices UK charity organisation.  

For many, the decision to return is as political as it is emotional.  In reality though, most of the 35,000 residents of Nahr Al-Bared have simply nowhere else to go.

Security in the camp remains high. This month Lebanon is preparing for the elections, which make fresh outbreaks of violence more likely.