Lebanon News

String of car bomb cases referred to Justice Council

Lebanese police display cars in Baalbek that were seized in Arsal, Friday, April 25, 2014. (The Daily Star/Nidal Solh)

BEIRUT: The government Friday referred the cases of 11 car bomb attacks that have struck various parts of Lebanon over the past months to the Justice Council, as two rockets hit the Bekaa Valley town of Hermel.

Speaking to reporters after a Cabinet session at the Grand Serail, Environment Minister Mohammad Machnouk announced the referral to the council, which issues verdicts in crimes jeopardizing the state’s security. The council’s verdicts cannot be appealed.

Lebanon suffered a wave of explosions in late 2013 and early 2014, some involving suicide bombers and most targeting areas associated with Hezbollah in Beirut’s southern suburbs and the Bekaa Valley.

The attacks, which killed and wounded hundreds of civilians, were nearly all claimed by Syrian rebel groups, who said they were in retaliation for Hezbollah’s military involvement in Syria alongside President Bashar Assad.

Meanwhile, the Lebanese Army said two rockets fired from the Syrian side of the border landed on the outskirts of the Bekaa Valley town of Hermel at 5:30 p.m. There were no casualties.

The Brigade of Free Sunnis in Baalbek claimed responsibility for the attack. The little-known group has said in the past that it stood behind similar operations.

Largely Shiite in population, Hermel has been subject to rocket attacks over the past year claimed by Syrian opposition groups.

Separately, the Internal Security Forces arrested a Jordanian fighter after he crossed from Syria into the Bekaa Valley town of Arsal.

The ISF said in a statement that an Arsal police unit had detained a Jordanian who they identified as M.A. They said he had entered Lebanon illegally and had come from the Syrian town of Yabroud.

An ISF source said the detainee was likely fighting alongside Syrian rebels who were driven out of Yabroud last month.

The ISF statement added that the same unit confiscated nine cars on the outskirts of Arsal Wednesday and Thursday, some stolen and others lacking proper papers.

Many of the cars that were used in the explosions were stolen from Lebanon, taken to Yabroud to be fitted with explosives and then reimported via Arsal.

In March, Syrian troops backed by Hezbollah fighters drove rebels out of Yabroud. That same month, the Lebanese Army deployed in Arsal in a bid to stop fighters fleeing Yabroud from entering Lebanon as well as to prevent rigged cars from being brought into the country. The spate of car bombs has since ground to a halt.

Also in the Bekaa Valley, Army Intelligence arrested a suspect wanted on several warrants, according to a statement from the military.

Merhej Mohammad Jaafar, a member of a gang headed by Mohammad Dawra, was wanted for taking part with others in robbing travelers on a Syrian bus of around LL25 million in the area of Tal al-Abyad in Baalbek in January, the statement said.

He was also wanted for opening fire on several Lebanese in Younin, Baalbek, last month, it added.

Military Investigative Judge Imad Zein finalized Friday a probe into the terrorism case of leading figures in the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, which claimed responsibility for some of the explosions, including the Nov. 19 twin suicide bombings on the Iranian Embassy in Beirut that left 30 people dead, among them an Iranian diplomat.

A judicial source told The Daily Star that Zein finalized the case after lengthy questioning of Jamal Daftardar, the man once thought to be the next leader of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, and Naim Abbas, the alleged mastermind behind two suicide bombings in areas where Hezbollah enjoys wide support.

The late leader of the Al-Qaeda-linked Abdullah Azzam Brigades, Majid Majid, appointed Abbas as the group’s military commander in Lebanon before he died of kidney failure at a military hospital in Beirut in January, less than three weeks after he was arrested by the Lebanese Army.

The judicial source said Zein had referred the case to Military Prosecutor Saqr Saqr, to allow for recommendations to be made before he issues indictments against the pair.

Military Investigative Judge Fadi Sawan has charged Daftardar and Abbas with belonging to terrorist networks, including Al-Qaeda and the Abdullah Azzam Brigades. The charges also include transporting explosives-rigged vehicles from Syria to Lebanon and detonating them in residential areas in Beirut’s southern suburbs, as well as killing civilians and firing rockets into Israel.

Zein also interrogated Syrian detainee R.Y. and issued an arrest warrant for him over charges of belonging to an armed terrorist organization and planning to carry out suicide bombings.

Separately, the Army arrested Nasser al-Ruz in the Zahrieh neighborhood of Tripoli as part of its ongoing security plan in the city.

The Army also arrested two people in Tripoli’s Bab al-Tabbaneh district, including Ezzeddine Rajab, who allegedly attacked the Army.

The military said in a statement that as part of its ongoing security measures in Tripoli it had conducted several raids in search of wanted individuals and arrested Fadi Ali Hoda, who is wanted on several arrest warrants for opening fire and throwing hand grenades at Army patrols in attacks that wounded several soldiers.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 26, 2014, on page 2.




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