BEIRUT/SIDON: The security plan for north Lebanon and the Bekaa Valley moved forward Thursday with the arrest of a high-level Al-Qaeda operative involved in the killing of UNIFIL soldiers near Arsal and the raiding of a large weapons depot in Tripoli.
The Lebanese Army said Thursday it has arrested a Palestinian accused of belonging to the Al-Qaeda-linked Abdullah Azzam Brigades.
Following what it described as a thorough investigation, an Army Intelligence unit apprehended Bilal Kayed, who has several arrest warrants out against him, a statement by the military said.
The Army said that Kayed was involved in the 2007 attack on the Spanish contingent with the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon as well as a number of bombings.
He is also accused of murder, attempted murder and transporting weapons, as well as damaging private and public property.
Security sources told The Daily Star that Kayed was arrested near the restive northern town of Arsal as part of a security crackdown targeting the most wanted individuals, and that his arrest was an important milestone for Lebanese security services.
The sources said that Kayed, who is originally from the Rashidieh refugee camp in Tyre, was also the main suspect in a 2007 bombing that targeted a checkpoint manned by UNIFIL’s Tanzanian contingent. A brother and a relative of his were arrested in connection with the attack, but he remained in hiding.
Sources said that Kayed took residence in Ain al-Hilweh and later traveled to fight in Syria, and crossed the border multiple times before being arrested.
In 2007, six Spanish peacekeepers were killed in an attack in south Lebanon as the contingent was patrolling the area.
The Army has arrested several suspects belonging to the Al-Qaeda-linked group, which has claimed responsibility for a number of attacks in Lebanon, including the Feb. 19 twin suicide bombings outside the Iranian Cultural Center.
The group has also claimed another twin suicide bombing targeting the Iranian Embassy in Beirut.
The group said it carried out the attacks in retaliation for Hezbollah’s military involvement in Syria.
The leader of the group, Majid Majid, was arrested last year by the Army and died some days later of natural causes.
The Army has also arrested a commander in the Brigades identified as Jamal Daftardar once thought to be the next leader of the group.
And in another development that is likely to refocus attention on the security of the Palestinian refugee camps, Military Investigative Judge Fadi Sawan asked for the death penalty in an indictment against six Palestinian members of an armed group based in Ain al-Hilweh.
The six men were identified as Bilal and Kamal Badr, Sari Hojeir, Mahmoud Azab, Ali Khalil and Nidhal Mohammad.
The men were accused of organizing an armed gang, carrying out terrorist attacks and possessing weapons and explosives.
Bilal Badr is one of the signatories of an initiative proposed by the Palestinian factions in Lebanon to maintain the neutrality of the camps toward the crisis in Syria.
Meanwhile, the security plan for Tripoli continued unabated with raids by the security services in Jabal Mohsen and Bab al-Tabbaneh, two warring neighborhoods that fought serveral times over the crisis in neighboring Syria, where residents are loyal to the Syrian regime and the opposition, respectively.
The ISF raided an ammunition warehouse in Jabal Mohsen, finding large quantities of explosives as well as light and medium-grade ammunition and military equipment, a source told The Daily Star.
President Michel Sleiman held a high-level meeting in Baabda Palace with senior officials to review the progress of the Tripoli plan and its follow-up in the Bekaa Valley.
The Lebanese Army and security forces deployed in Tripoli on the back of 200 arrest warrants for wanted individuals in Tripoli to restore order to the city, Lebanon’s second-largest, following the Syria-linked violence.
The plan was later expanded to include the Bekaa Valley, which has also suffered from the violent fallout of the crisis in Syria.
The Baabda talks included Prime Minister Tammam Salam, Defense Minister Samir Moqbel, Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk and senior military and security officials.
In a joint statement, Sleiman and Salam said security forces would expand their deployment particularly around religious buildings during the Easter holidays in order to provide security for worshippers. They also said the security plan had been met with satisfaction by the public.
The delegates attending the meeting discussed the importance of preserving security in Lebanon ahead of the summer holidays in order to provide an incentive for tourists to visit the country.
They also discussed the fate of Tfail, a Lebanese border enclave housing hundreds of refugees which is cut off from the Lebanese mainland due to recent Syrian regime advances. Officials are studying ways to provide an entryway from the isolated enclave into Lebanon to allow residents to freely travel. – Additional reporting by Antoine Amrieh