BEIRUT: The Lebanese Army Wednesday arrested a leading figure of an Al-Qaeda-linked group and dismantled two cars rigged with explosives in Beirut and east Lebanon, security sources said, in a major move by the military aimed at curbing the recent wave of deadly bombings linked to crisis in Syria.
The sources said the string of security breakthroughs came after the morning arrest in Beirut of Palestinian Naim Abbas, who the Army said was a wanted member of the Abdullah Azaam Brigades.
A high-ranking security source described Abbas as a “leading figure” in the Al-Qaeda-linked group that claimed responsibility for last year’s suicide bombings outside Iran’s Embassy in Beirut. Thirty people, including an Iranian diplomat, were killed in the Nov. 19 attack.
Abbas’ name emerged following the recent arrests of Omar Atrash, a detained Sunni sheikh who was charged over two separate bombings in January in the southern suburbs of Beirut, and Jamal Daftardar, once thought to be the number two in the Abdullah Azaam Brigades, the source said.
According to a security report obtained by The Daily Star last week, Atrash confessed during interrogation to delivering explosive-rigged cars and belts as well as men who could potentially serve as suicide bombers to Abbas.
Abbas was initially a member of Islamic Jihad movement and was residing in the Hittin neighborhood of the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain el-Hilweh in south Lebanon, the report said.
The Army said Abbas had been under close surveillance after information emerged of his involvement in preparing and detonating car bombs.
“He was monitored from when he left Ain el-Hilweh,” the military said in a statement.
The Palestinian was arrested during an Army raid in the Afif al-Tibeh neighborhood near Corniche Mazraa in the Lebanese capital.
"Immediately after interrogation began, he [Abbas] confessed that he had prepared a car bomb to be set off later and that the car was left in Corniche Mazraa," the Army said.
The confession led soldiers to a parking lot near Al-Halabi Nuts in Corniche Mazraa.
The Army said the bomb weighing 100 kilograms was safely disabled, adding that explosives belts and several rockets were also removed from the vehicle.
Pictures taken by a Daily Star photographer near the scene showed packs of explosives wrapped with wire after they were pulled from the black Toyota RAV4. Other pictures showed the explosives hidden in the vehicle’s upholstery.
In East Lebanon, the Army said it also thwarted an attempt to deliver a vehicle from Syria to suicide bombers in Lebanon.
The Army said a silver Kia was seized and that its occupants – three women – were arrested. The Kia had come from Yabroud in Syria and was destined for Beirut, the Army said, adding that the three women indented to hand over the car to suicide bombers.
Security sources in east Lebanon's Bekaa Valley said the Kia was rigged with 50 kilograms of explosives and was dismantled by military experts on the main Arsal-Labweh road.
They said the women, all residents of the northeastern border town of Arsal, were taken for interrogation. They were identified as Joumana Hmeid, Hala Rayed and Khadija Awdeh.
The Army said Abbas also led the Army to car bomb hideouts "that are currently being raided."
The high-ranking security source described Abbas' arrest as a “big catch” that could help authorities thwart future attacks.
"This is a big catch given the role Abbas played in terrorist acts and the recent wave of car bombings across the country, particularly in Beirut’s southern suburbs and the northeastern town of Hermel," the source said.
The source said Abbas’ arrest would likely help security agencies curb bomb attacks and unveil the identity of the suicide car bombers in the Jan. 2 and Jan. 16 attacks in the Beirut southern suburb of Haret Hreik and Hermel respectively.