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Suspect in killing of Filipina maid interrogated in Lebanon

Lebanese citizen Nader Essam Assaf handed over to Lebanon after his arrest in Syria, Lebanese authorities say.

Lebanese authorities in Beirut are interrogating a man suspected in the death of a Filipina maid whose body was found stuffed in a freezer in Kuwait, security and judicial officials said.

A judicial official said on Saturday that Lebanese citizen Nader Essam Assaf was handed over by Syrian authorities to Lebanon on Friday. 

The February 6 discovery of Joanna Demafelis’ body in the apartment in Kuwait City, where it had reportedly been kept for more than a year, spurred outrage and refocused attention on the abuse of Filipinas working as maids abroad and even prompted Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to ban the deployment of new Filipino workers to Kuwait, where many of the abuses had been reported.

Nader Essam Assaf and his wife are suspects in Demafelis' death. The judicial official said that it appeared that when Assaf felt that the case might be discovered in Kuwait, he fled to Syria along with his wife hoping that he would not be caught.

However, Syrian authorities detained Assaf and later handed him over to Lebanon, as he is a Lebanese citizen, the official said, while Assaf's wife, a Syrian national, remains in Syria.

A senior official with Lebanon's General Security Directorate refused to provide details other than that the man is being held by the agency and undergoing questioning.

Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to brief reporters.

Lebanese media outlets reported that Assaf is from the northeastern region of Baalbek, but he grew up in a neighbourhood south of Beirut.

On Friday, the Philippines' foreign secretary had said that the suspect was under arrest in Lebanon.

The Philippine ambassador to Kuwait said he has received almost 6,000 complaints of abuse of Filipino workers last year and President Duterte has said Demafelis' death highlighted the mistreatment of domestic workers in the Gulf.

However, Kuwaiti officials have criticised the Filipino worker ban, saying Duterte's statements have only served to complicate the situation further.

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