Before dawn on Jan. 18, dozens of men dressed in black and carrying hand-held radios fanned out across the Lebanese capital. They were spotted on major roads from the airport to downtown Beirut. The black-clad men disappeared within a few hours. But by then, anxious parents rushed to pull their children out of school and Beirut residents spent the rest of the day on edge.
Lebanese and foreign media labeled the incident a “show of force” by Hezbollah, the Shiite political party and militia that brought down the Lebanese government two weeks ago. While Hezbollah's media office coyly refused to confirm that the group had dispatched the black-clad men, one party official told a Lebanese newspaper: “This was just a small message to show that the time for talk is over.”
A day earlier, an international prosecutor issued the first indictment in the case that has set off Lebanon's latest political crisis: a United Nations tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri. While the charges remain sealed, Hezbollah leaders have acknowledged that they expect several party members to be indicted.