BEIRUT/NABATIEH, Lebanon: Security forces continued to make breakthroughs against a suspected jihadist network Monday, identifying additional suspects, as fears of more car bombs gripped Hezbollah strongholds in Beirut’s southern suburbs and south Lebanon.
Hezbollah beefed up security in the southern suburbs of the capital, setting up checkpoints and inspecting cars entering the neighborhoods, raising concerns that the party was taking policing duties into its own hands. Hezbollah and the Amal Movement also tightened security measures in south Lebanon.
The General Directorate of General Security announced Monday that only three suspects had been arrested so far for their alleged involvement in a car-bombing ring, but added that investigators were in pursuit of two additional Lebanese suspects.
General Security said it arrested the Lebanese man and two Palestinian brothers on suspicion of “creating a terrorist network, breaching security on Lebanese soil and preparing to carry out a bombing using the confiscated car.”
The interior minister previously said four suspects had been arrested.
General Security identified the two wanted Lebanese suspects as Mohammad Qassem al-Ahmad, 30, a resident of Haret Naameh, and Saeed Mohammad Bahri, 28, of Dohat Aramoun.
The agency circulated photos of the two, asking people to report any information about the suspects. The detained suspects were identified by their initials as Lebanese T.B.T. and Palestinians A.H.S. and K.H.S.
General Security also confirmed that it had confiscated Saturday an Audi vehicle that contained 250 kilograms of explosives in Naameh, 15 kilometers south of Beirut.
A security source told The Daily Star that authorities found five containers in the Audi, each with 50 kilograms of TNT and a remote-control detonator. The Audi was reportedly parked near Naameh’s municipality building and a residential complex.
Investigators are looking into whether the suspects are linked to last week’s bombing, which killed 30 and wounded over 300, in Beirut’s southern suburb of Ruwaiss, where support for Hezbollah runs strong.
Lebanese authorities as well as Hezbollah have beefed up security in Beirut, particularly in the southern suburbs. The resistance group has set up checkpoints to search passing vehicles, leading to traffic jams as motorists wait for security personnel to check their cars and identities.
Security sources revealed to The Daily Star that Hezbollah was coordinating closely with the Internal Security Forces’ intelligence arm, the Information Branch, which many allege is backed by the party’s political rivals, the Future Movement.
“Contacts between the head of the Information Branch, Col. Imad Othman, and the head of Hezbollah’s Liaison Unit, Wafiq Safa, were closely coordinating and exchanging information to apprehend what the two believe is a common enemy that targeted both entities,” one source noted.
The source said Hezbollah and the Information Branch believed that extremist cells and certain extremist Palestinian factions “constituted a common enemy.”
The investigation into the Ruwaiss bombing also proceeded apace, with Judge Sami Sader ruling out Monday the possibility that a suicide bomber was behind the bombing.“All the remains have been identified, which rules out the theory that the attacker may have been a suicide bomber,” a judicial source told The Daily Star.
The source said the death toll from the explosion that rocked the southern suburbs at the evening rush hour last week rose to 30 after the recovery of more bodies at the blast site.
The source said the remains of 13 Lebanese and a Syrian had been handed over to their families after DNA testing identified the victims. Steps were being taken to hand over to the remaining bodies to the families, the state-run National News Agency reported.
The judicial source said authorities were now looking into whether the 60-kilogram bomb was detonated remotely or triggered by a timer.
No arrests have been made in the bombing, the source added.
The Ruwaiss blast came more than a month after a similar car bombing in the Bir al-Abed neighborhood of the southern suburbs. That bombing wounded over 50 people and caused extensive damage to buildings.
Meanwhile, additional security measures were implemented in Sidon and Nabatieh in southern Lebanon.
In Sidon, security sources said residents had reported suspicious vehicles multiple times over the last 36 hours, particularly in the Al-Barrad and Jesuit University areas, but searches revealed nothing.
In Nabatieh, a Hezbollah stronghold in the south, security forces set up road blocks and checkpoints to inspect passers-by, and canine teams inspected several shops set up in Ashoura Square, where merchants and shoppers from across south Lebanon attend a weekly market. Experts carrying bomb-detection gear swept through several districts and streets in the area.
Security sources told The Daily Star that the precautions were necessary to prevent possible terrorist operations against civilians, adding that people were satisfied with the measures.
The sources said Syrian workers and cars carrying Syrian plate numbers were subjected to checks.
Zeinab Jaber, a local resident, said it was better to endure additional security checks and procedures “so what happened in the southern suburb doesn’t happen to us.” – With additional reporting by Antoine Ghattas Saab