BEIRUT: The head of a pro-Assad Islamist group in Lebanon was detained for interrogation Thursday by police as part of a probe into last week’s deadly car bombs in Tripoli, a judicial source said as new details of the bombing plot were uncovered.
“[Hashem] Minqara was detained over the offense of failing to notify authorities of the bombings that were being prepared for Tripoli, the two mosques and public figures,” a judicial source told The Daily Star.
Minqara’s testimony allegedly revealed that he was aware of the attacks before they were carried out, the source added.
At least 47 people were killed and over 500 wounded in Tripoli last Friday after car bombs struck the Al-Salam and Al-Taqwa mosques, in the latest attacks in Lebanon linked to the crisis in neighboring Syria.
According to the source, Military Prosecutor Judge Saqr Saqr asked the Internal Security Forces’ Information Branch to finish its preliminary investigation and refer the case with their two suspects and the informant to him.
Saqr plans to study the case Friday and issue charges against those with connection to the bombings shortly.
The interrogation of Sheikh Ahmad Gharib, one of two suspects in custody over the car bombs, led to the questioning of Minqara, a close ally of the Syrian regime and associate of Gharib, the judicial source said.
“Calling Minqara for questioning came after developments surfaced in the last hour related to the investigation. This necessitated [Minqara’s] interrogation over details revealed by Sheikh Ahmad Gharib and informant Musatafa Houri, who are both in custody,” the source said.
Minqara, who heads the Tripoli-based Tawhid Movement, is being interrogated under the supervision of Saqr.
Gharib was arrested Saturday along with Sheikh Abdel-Razzaq Hammoud for questioning in the case.
According to a security source who spoke on condition of anonymity, Houri and Gharib became friends while working on an election campaign.
According to the source, about a month prior to the bombings, Houri told the Information Branch of conversations with Gharib in which the sheikh had spoken of planned bombings targeting mosques in the northern city with the aim of assassinating former ISF head Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi, Salafist Sheikh Salem Rafei and Future Movement MP Khaled Daher.
Rafei had been delivering a speech at the Al-Taqwa mosque at the time of the explosions.
According to the source, the informant remained in contact with the Information Branch during the month leading up the attacks in the Tripoli.
Houri’s information and Gharib’s appearance in surveillance video taken near Al-Salam Mosque at the time of the blast prompted security forces to apprehend the sheikh for questioning.
Gharib confessed during interrogation that the explosions were “directly planned by Syrian intelligence,” a security source told The Daily Star Tuesday.
On Wednesday, Saqr extended Gharib and Hammoud’s detention for a period of 24 hours, the National News Agency said. Their detention had been extended Monday after they gave conflicting testimonies.
Police released Tuesday a sketch of another suspect wanted over the Tripoli blasts, the latest in a series of car bombings in Lebanon that have escalated security fears in the country.
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 car bomb outside the Al-Taqwa Mosque.
Tripoli will mark one week since the deadly attacks Friday and on the eve of the solemn occasions, the public was urged, via loudspeakers mounted on cars, to attend en masse prayers at the sites of the blasts. A Maronite MP for the city, Robert Fadel, urged churches to ring their bells in a show of solidarity.