SIDON, Lebanon: Suspects in the deadly overnight attack on the Lebanese Army in south Lebanon likely had links to both fugitive Salafi-labelled Sheikh Ahmad Assir and al-Qaeda affiliated Nusra Front, security sources said Monday.
The sources, speaking to The Daily Star on condition of anonymity, said Lebanese Army Intelligence was able to identify the fourth suspect killed in the vehicle that attacked a military checkpoint in Majdalyoun, east of Sidon, late Sunday.
The suspect was identified as Husam al-Sayyed, the brother of Palestinian Bahaeddine al-Sayyed who was in the GMC Envoy that attacked the Army.
A statement from the Lebanese Army said a man stepped out of the vehicle and detonated a hand grenade at the checkpoint, killing himself and Sgt. Samer Rizk.
Another soldier was also wounded in the 9:45 p.m. attack, the Army said.
Mohammad Jamil al-Zarif and Ibrahim al-Mir, both Lebanese, were also killed after troops returned fire toward the Envoy.
The security sources said the Army confiscated several hand grenades and automatic rifles as well as hundreds of rifle ammunition from the Envoy.
The incident came shortly after a first attack on an Army checkpoint on the Awali river bridge at Sidon’s northern entrance by three men on foot at 9 pm.
One of the attackers dashed toward the soldier, waving a hand grenade. The soldier swiftly responded by opening fire on him which led the to the explosion of the grenade.
The attacker was killed instantly and two soldiers were wounded, the statement said.
Another grenade was found in the victim’s pocket and was immediately dismantled by an Army expert, the statement added.
It said the two other assailants managed to escape, adding that investigation is underway to determine whether the Awali attackers are related to the group that attacked a similar checkpoint in Majdalyoun 45 minutes later.
The sources, according to preliminary investigation, said the suspects in the attacks may have links not only to Sheikh Assir but also the Nusra Front, the al-Qaeda-linked rebel group in Syria fighting government troops loyal to President Bashar Assad.
Husam had only returned from Syria a month ago after having fought alongside rebels, the sources said.
They said one of the four attackers had also appeared in a photo alongside Mouin Abu Dahr, one of two suicide bombers who attacked the Iranian Embassy in Beirut last month.
In June, deadly clashes broke out between the Army and gunmen loyal to Assir who were outspoken critics of Hezbollah’s policies in Lebanon and their presence around the Abra Bilal Bin Rabah mosque for which Assir was the Imam.
The confrontation left 18 soldiers and dozens of Assir’s supporters dead.
The Lebanese Army deployed Monday Armored Personnel Carriers in and around Sidon.
Heavy traffic was also reported along the Awali highway Monday morning due to vehicle search at the Lebanese Army checkpoint.
Caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said Lebanese officials knew in advance that assaults would take place against military checkpoints in south Lebanon.
“We had information 10 days ago that Army checkpoints in the south will come under attack,” Charbel told the Voice of Lebanon radio station.