TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Security forces launched a wide-ranging crackdown in Tripoli Tuesday that brought calm to the embattled northern city but failed to apprehend militia leaders who went into hiding ahead of the raids.
In a statement issued late Tuesday, the Army said it had arrested 75 people, 27 of whom had Palestinian or Syrian citizenship, and confiscated large quantities of weapons and ammunition.
The arrests were made as part of the government-approved security plan to restore stability to the city, where rounds of fighting linked to the war in Syria have claimed scores of lives. Those arrested are suspected of involvement in clashes.
Around 1,800 Lebanese Army and Internal Security Forces personnel were deployed in Tripoli in the early hours of the morning and conducted an estimated 40 raids in several neighborhoods of Lebanon’s second largest city.
The sites of the raids included the residence of the pro-Assad Arab Democratic Party Secretary-General Rifaat Eid in Jabal Mohsen, where soldiers confiscated two wireless devices and two surveillance cameras, among other items, security sources said. It was the first time the ISF has deployed to Jabal Mohsen, where tensions between local Alawites and the security force had reached a fever pitch.
Security forces in Akkar also raided the home of ADP leader Ali Eid, who is accused of helping to smuggle out a suspect involved in twin car bombings in Tripoli last summer. Four of his guards were arrested, security sources said, but Eid was not found.
The Army also raided the house of militant Sheikh Omar Bakri, a Tripoli-based Islamist, in the Abu Samra neighborhood, as well as the residence of Shadi Mawlawi, but the two men were not found, according to the sources.
Mawlawi was previously accused of terrorism-related offenses and leads an armed group in Tripoli.
The Army raided the neighborhood of Riva and detained militia leader Jihad Dandashi, along with 10 other people including three Syrians.
Tripoli gunmen and fighters went into hiding in anticipation of the security plan’s implementation, after the military prosecutor issued 200 warrants, including some for militia leaders in the city.
Residents said the city was peaceful and expressed support for the Army’s plan, hoping that it could herald a return to economic growth. Asaad Hariri, an established merchant, said it was the first time residents had seen Lebanese helicopters flying in Tripoli’s skies since the early 1980s, adding that he had seen no armed gunmen or thugs on motorcycles since the Army deployment.
“Economics and security go hand in hand,” he said.
Roula Fawwaz, who heads a number of vocational training centers in the city, said calm had taken hold.
“I’m usually scared when I go out and drive my car, but it was peaceful in the street,” she said.
“We are with the security plan,” she added. “All of the people of Tripoli need this.”
Military Prosecutor Saqr Saqr issued warrants on charges related to armed clashes, car bombs, kidnapping and forgery, as well as the attempted murder of civilians and Army soldiers. The judicial move grants security agencies the right to detain suspects and refer them to the judiciary.
The military and ISF set up 30 checkpoints throughout the city. The Army began removing barricades and sandbags that were erected during armed clashes, as several shops and markets opened for business.
Internet services in Tripoli were cut off to assist in the implementation of the plan, which was drafted by the Higher Defense Council.
President Michel Sleiman voiced relief over the measures and “sacrifices to restore stability and preserve the security of the nation and citizens.”
At least 30 people were killed in the latest round of fighting between opponents and supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad. The clashes subsided last week.
MP Walid Jumblatt mocked the security plan, saying the government’s announcement gave militia leaders enough time to flee the city.
“Now Rifaat Eid can continue his graduate studies at the University of California at Berkeley,” Jumblatt said in the statement.
Meanwhile, Investigative Military Judge Fadi Sawan questioned Jamal Daftardar, who was once thought to be the next leader of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, and issued an arrest warrant against him on charges of belonging to terrorist networks, including Al-Qaeda and the Abdullah Azzam Brigades
Judge Sawan questioned Daftardar inside the military hospital in Beirut, where the detainee is receiving treatment.
The charges against Daftardar also included transporting explosives-rigged vehicles from Syria to Lebanon and detonating them in residential areas of Beirut and the capital’s southern suburbs, as well as killing civilians and launching rockets into Israel.
A judicial source told The Daily Star that Daftardar, also known as Mohammad Ahmad al-Masri, confessed to belonging to the Abdullah Azzam Brigades. He also confessed that the former leader of the group, the late Majid al-Majid, had previously appointed him as an official of Islamic law in Lebanon.
Daftardar claimed that Majid had appointed Naim Abbas, the alleged mastermind behind two bombings, as the new military official for the group in Lebanon.
After he finished questioning Daftardar, the judge referred the file, which covers 23 suspects from a range of nationalities, to judge Saqr Saqr. The file includes Lebanese, Syrian, Palestinian and Iraqi suspects, some of whom remain at large .
Daftardar was arrested during a raid on a residence in the Western Bekaa town of Kamed al-Loz in mid-January.
The Abdullah Azzam Brigades claimed responsibility for several attacks in Lebanon including the Nov. 19 twin suicide attacks targeting the Iranian Embassy in Beirut that left 30 people dead, including an Iranian diplomat. – Additional reporting by Kareem Shaheen