A Christian library in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli was intentionally burned down on Friday night after its owner, a Greek Orthodox priest, was falsely accused of writing an article insulting Islam and the prophet Mohammed.
Assailants set fire to the Saeh Library, destroying two-thirds of the collection of 80,000 books and manuscripts, the French news agency Agence France-Presse reported.
Father Ibrahim Surouj, a Greek Orthodox priest who owns the library was earlier accused of writing a pamphlet that was insulting to Islam and the prophet Mohammed, a Lebanese security source told AFP.
The unnamed source said that later, however, “it became clear the priest had nothing to do with the pamphlet.”
In an interview on Lebanese television on Saturday, Father Surouj said he forgives those responsible and prays for peace in Tripoli, Ya Libnan reported.
Lebanon’s Daily Star reported that “civil defense teams struggled to put out the flames which engulfed the bookstore,” calling the site “one of Lebanon’s most renowned libraries.”
Even Muslim leaders defended the priest against the accusation he had written an anti-Muslim article. Salafist Sheikh Salem al-Rafei told reporters he would like to see Lebanese security forces prosecute those who incited the arson attack.
“I call on [security agencies] to prosecute those who incited, ordered and issued a fatwa in favor of the attack rather than the fervent boys who carried out the attack,” Rafei said.
The former head of Internal Security Forces Ashraf Rifi echoed the assessment that the arson attack resulted from rumors about an article insulting the prophet Mohammed.
Internal Security Forces Brig. Imad Ayyoubi dismissed the allegations against the Christian leader.
“Father Surouj has nothing to do with the article and the source of the website is from Denmark and was published on Jan. 7, 2010,” Ayyoubi said, adding that investigators believe they know who perpetrated the attack.
Hundreds of Lebanese citizens demonstrated Saturday in Lebanon’s second largest city in support of the priest, while others volunteered to try to salvage books and rebuild the library.
A report in Gulf News asserted that some of the books may have been further damaged by the water firefighters used to try to extinguish the flames.
Some who had visited posted photos of the library, including Daily Star reporter Kareem Shaheen:
The Lebanon blog A Separate State of Mind called the library a “true national treasure” adding that many of the books in its collection were, “ironically, books about Islam.”
“Tonight, I have been robbed of being able to visit such a place again and again by men who know no religion, no god and no alphabet,” wrote blogger Elie Fares. “Tonight, I’m livid and you should be.”
According to Blog Baladi, the library was founded in 1970 and had since expanded from one room to a larger warehouse. Of the 80,000 books, Baladi reported that 400 are considered to be rare.
One of the oldest in the collection was written in 1817 by an American colonel, with an estimated value of $3,000, Baladi reported. It posted photos here of what the library looked like before it was burned.
“I wish officials would have taken the necessary precautions to preserve it and protect it from the a**holes who burned it down,” Blog Baladi wrote.