BEIRUT: A suspect in custody over last week’s deadly car bombings in north Lebanon has confessed that Syrian intelligence was behind the attacks, a security source said Tuesday, as police released a sketch of a man wanted in connection with the case.
Meanwhile, Lebansese Army intelligence arrested a suspected terrorist cell believed to be behind the rocket attack against the Baabda area earlier this month, media reports said.
Sheikh Ahmad Gharib, one of two suspects being interrogated over the Aug. 23 car bombs outside the Al-Taqwa and Al-Salam mosques in Tripoli, confessed that the explosions were “directly planned by Syrian intelligence,” the source said.
Gharib, after several hours of interrogation, also said he had prior knowledge of the attacks and their planning, the source added.
Gharib is a member of the pro-Syrian regime, Tripoli-based Tawhid Movement, which is headed by Sheikh Hashem Minkara.
Contrary to initial information, security reports revealed that Gharib resided in Tripoli a few blocks away from the Al-Salam Mosque rather than the region of Dinnieh.
At least 47 people were killed and more than 500 wounded in the car bombings in Tripoli, a city that has been the scene of frequent violence linked to the crisis in Syria.
Gharib’s arrest Saturday was due to his appearance in a surveillance video taken near Al-Salam Mosque at the time of the blast. Police are also questioning Sheikh Abdul-Razzak Hammoud in connection with the case.
Gharib and Hammoud were arrested and are being interrogated by the Information Branch, the intelligence-wing of the Internal Security Forces. Their period of detention was extended Monday by two days after the two gave conflicting testimonies.
Gharib faces two options Wednesday, security reports said. The judiciary will either charge and detain him or he will be released on bail.
The reports added that the analysis of telecoms data showed Gharib had made several calls to Syria.
The data is expected to reveal the exact numbers the sheikh called in Syria in a bid to pin down more information on the planning of the Tripoli attacks as well as the path the rigged cars took before being detonated.
Also Tuesday, police released a sketch of another suspect wanted over the Tripoli blasts, the latest in a series of car bombings that have escalated security fears in Lebanon.
The police sketch shows a man with a short beard in religious clothing.
The man, according to the Internal Security Forces, is suspected of placing the rigged vehicle outside the Al-Taqwa Mosque.
The police urged citizens to provide authorities with any information about the suspect and his location by calling the hotline number 1788, adding that informants would remain anonymous.
Investigations into the explosions outside the mosques continued Tuesday under the supervision of the military justice department.
According to the security source, investigators are hopeful that they will be able to obtain further information about the vehicles that were used in the attacks, including where they were rigged and the parties responsible for detonating them.
A judicial source said Monday investigators had managed to identify the the vehicle used near the Al-Salam Mosque – a Ford SUV – but said they had yet to confirm whether the vehicle outside the Al-Taqwa Mosque had been a GMC or Renault 18.
The security source said video footage from cameras installed near the mosques where the car bombs detonated was still being analyzed.
In the aftermath of the Aug. 15 blast in Beirut’s southern suburb of Ruwaiss, Lebanese security agencies launched a major crackdown against suspected terrorist cells across the country.
A few days before the twin bombing in Tripoli, security agencies arrested several members of a car-bombing ring in the region of Naameh, south of Beirut, and confiscated an Audi loaded with 250 kilograms of explosives.