BEIRUT: Informed security sources in Sidon told The Daily Star Monday they had strong reason to believe that the fugitives Sheikh Ahmad Assir and celebrity Salafist Fadel Shaker were hiding in the Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp.
Assir is reportedly living in the neighborhood of Hittin with 10 to 12 of his family members and supporters, more than one security agency has confirmed.
A number of these supporters recently relocated to another neighborhood and to the nearby Taamir area, outside the control of the Lebanese Army, after their presence inside the camp disturbed the Palestinians, who feared the Palestinian security forces would be humiliated and Lebanese public opinion would turn against them.
The Hittin district is considered a stronghold of several Palestinian factions, including Fatah, Hamas, the Islamic forces, and the Masharih Association [Ahbash], in addition to some hard-line Islamist groups united under the umbrella of the “Muslim Youth,” which controls some small neighborhoods.
According to high-placed Palestinian sources, the Lebanese authorities informed certain Palestinian groups, particularly Islamist factions such as Osbat al-Ansar and the Mujahid Movement, of the presence and hiding place of Assir and his followers, but that the Palestinian side was clear in informing their Lebanese counterparts: “Do not ask us to do something we are not capable of, cannot implement or afford its repercussions.”
A video of Shaker reportedly filmed in the camp caused a stir when it circulated recently on social media. Palestinian circles claimed it was filmed earlier this summer during the month of Ramadan, when he was seen at iftar banquets hosted by some area mosques and in the Tawari neighborhood. Shaker is said to move between the camp and the neighborhood of Taamir with about 10 followers.
Other sightings appear to confirm Assir’s presence. Recently, one of his sons was seen firing shots into the air from the roof of a house in the Hittin after a wedding in the area.
The sightings of Assir coincide with the distribution on social media of a picture showing Sheikh Ahmad Abdel Karim al-Saadi, aka Abu Muhjin, the leader of Osbat al-Ansar. He is wanted on suspicion of killing the head of the Masharih Association, Sheikh Nizar al-Halabi, in 1995.
Information from a number of sources both inside and outside the camp, including from Osbat al-Ansar itself, say Abu Muhjin moves about the camp and interacts with its people freely. They did not know if Assir’s choice of hideout had anything to do with Saadi or any other Islamist faction.
Sources following Assir’s case say his presence has been tolerated so long as he does not make his presence in the camp obvious.
Meanwhile, the area of Taamir-Ain al-Hilweh across from Tawari and Tahtani Streets continues to see normal activity, as the Army still carries out security measures in Taamir.
The Hezbollah-affiliated Resistance Brigades, however, are all but invisible in the area, though this does not mean they are no longer present.
They only appear at certain times of day, in certain numbers, and they no longer wear their uniform black that previously identified them. Dozens of them had reportedly left for Syria and were delayed in returning to their families, sparking speculation as to their fate, until it was revealed that they had participated in a training course organized by Hezbollah in very remote areas.
A number of Lebanese-Palestinian members of the Brigades have been deployed in the camp and its surroundings.