BEIRUT: ISIS allegedly threatened in a new video Friday to slaughter nine Lebanese soldiers it is holding within three days unless the government acted to release Islamist detainees held in Roumieh prison.
Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk, meanwhile, warned that the situation in the northeastern town of Arsal was “a time bomb ready to explode” and urged feuding political parties to reach a consensus to defuse it.
In the footage, posted on YouTube Friday night, one of the nine soldiers called on their families to block roads and exert pressure on the government to release the Islamist detainees from Roumieh within three days because they faced the threat of slaughter at the hands of ISIS militants.
“I urge my people to take to the streets to pressure the Lebanese government or else we will be slaughtered,” Hussein Mahmoud Ammar, a soldier from the Akkar village of Fnaydeq, said in the video. “If they don’t take to the streets, we will be slaughtered within three days.”
“I appeal to [Future] MP Khaled Zahraman, preachers of Fnaydeq and all the youth of Akkar to block roads,” he said.
Mohammad Hussein Youssef, a soldier from Western Bekaa, made a similar appeal. “I urge my people and brothers in my village and the district of Western Bekaa to block roads ... and not reopen the roads before Islamist prisoners in Roumieh are released, because they [ISIS] want to release us in exchange for their release,” he said.
The video came a day after a member of ISIS claimed that the militant group had beheaded one of 11 soldiers it captured earlier this month following clashes with the Army in the northeastern town of Arsal.
The Lebanese Army clashed Friday with militants on the outskirts of Arsal for the second day running, killing one and arresting two in an incident highlighting the fragility of the situation in the town that was seized earlier this month by ISIS and Nusra Front gunmen.
While the Lebanese Army said Friday it was still investigating the claim about the beheading of Ali Sayyed, an Army soldier from the northern district of Akkar, a source close to the Committee of Muslim Scholars, said the claim could be true.
An uncle of the victim told reporters that the Committee of Muslim Scholars had confirmed the beheading of his nephew.
The clashes erupted on the outskirts of Arsal shortly after Machnouk’s warning.
The military said in a statement that soldiers spotted three militants on board a four-wheel drive Chevrolet in Wadi Hmeid, prompting an Army patrol to pursue them.
A clash ensued and while the Army was able to arrest two of the militants, identified as Lebanese Khaled Ammoun and Mohammad Ezzedine, a third gunman fled, it said.
It added that the two arrested were in possession of two Kalashnikovs, a number of hand grenades and ammunition, as well as communication devices.
A military official told The Daily Star that soldiers shot and killed the third militant, who was identified as Rakan Ammoun, a Lebanese from Arsal.
Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV station said Ammoun was part of a terrorist ring tasked with rigging vehicles with explosives. He was allegedly behind one of the two car bombings in Harek Hreik in Beirut’s southern suburbs.
Residents in Arsal said they heard sounds of gun and mortar fire on the outskirts, a day after the Army battled Islamist militants in Al-Rahwe, a remote border village in the region, after a military unit was ambushed.
Friday’s minor clash came hours after the Army said it had arrested a Lebanese citizen and two Syrians for their suspected involvement in the five-day deadly fighting between the military and ISIS and Nusra Front militants that erupted on Aug. 2.
In a statement, the Army identified the detainees as Khaled Mohammad Deeb Karnabi, a Lebanese, and Syrian nationals Mohammad Abdul-Sattar Akouk and Abdullah Mohammad Akouk.
In response to the Lebanese Army’s urgent request for military assistance in the wake of clashes in Arsal, the United States delivered a shipment of weapons Friday, the second in two days.
Between Thursday and Friday, the U.S. Army delivered 36 81 mm mortars, 24 120mm mortars, 1,529 M16 A4 rifles and 480 AT4 launchers, worth nearly $9 million, an embassy source told The Daily Star.
Earlier Friday, Machnouk described the security situation in Arsal as “a ticking time bomb,” calling on rival political parties to reach a consensus to defuse it.
“The issue of Arsal is not finished ... This issue is a time bomb always ready to explode anytime,” Machnouk told reporters after meeting with MP Michel Aoun at the latter’s residence in Rabieh.
“We discussed the need to energize the work of the Cabinet and Parliament ... I have agreed with Gen. Aoun on more consultations and coordination specifically over the Arsal issue, which needs a consensus among all political parties on a number of topics,” he said.
Asked to comment on the beheading claim, Machnouk said: “There are doubts about the report and the image.”
The families of Lebanese hostages staged a sit-in outside the Halba Serail in north Lebanon, calling for intensified action to bring their loved ones home.