A Lebanese singer-turned-Islamist wanted in connection with deadly clashes with the army plans to surrender to the authorities after nearly two years on the run, his lawyer said on Monday.
Fadel Shaker is accused along with extremist Sunni cleric Ahmad al-Assir of involvement in violence near the southern Lebanese city of Sidon in June 2013 that left at least 18 soldiers and 11 gunmen dead.
“Fadel wants to surrender in the coming days,” Shaker’s lawyer May Khansa told AFP. “He broke off his relationship with Assir some time ago.”
Both men are accused of “killing army officers and attacking state institutions”.
A judicial source said last month that a military judge had recommended seeking the death penalty for the pair.
Born Fadel Shmandur, Shaker began his career as a popular wedding singer who performed from the rooftops of the crowded Palestinian refugee camp of Ain al-Helweh in Sidon, the largest in Lebanon.
He became immensely popular across the Arab world for his love songs and advocacy of Palestinian rights.
When Syria’s uprising erupted in 2011, Shaker shocked his fans by joining the ranks of extremist preacher Assir.
Assir stirred up sectarian tensions in Lebanon with his denunciations of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah, which has sent fighters across the border to support regime forces.
Shaker featured prominently at the Sunni preacher’s rallies.
“God gave me the gift and invited me to join the jihad… Mother, don’t cry for me… Death does not frighten me, and my wish is to become a martyr,” Shaker crooned in a television appearance in 2013.
But in an interview with Lebanese television station LBC at the weekend, Shaker appeared clean-shaven and in a crisp collared shirt.
He denied taking part in the clashes and said he wanted to “return to his regular life”.
“He has abandoned the hardline religious path he was on,” his lawyer said.
Shaker is hiding out in a home he recently bought in Ain al-Helweh, his birthplace, according to witnesses who recently met him.
He looked gaunt, having lost significant weight after recent illness — and the bushy beard he sported in 2013 was gone.
The people who met him said the reasons for his sudden about-face were unclear.
Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar reported that an apparent deal with state security forces may see a reduced sentence for the former singer.