BEIRUT: The handful of suspects recently arrested in connection with terrorist attacks targeting predominantly Shiite neighborhoods are merely a drop in the bucket, a judicial source warned Thursday, adding that many more extremist militants are thought to be active in the country.
Wednesday’s arrest of Palestinian Naim Abbas, a leading figure in the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, was seen as a victory for authorities as his testimony allowed the Lebanese Army to thwart three more possible attacks.
“But that does not necessarily mean the end of terrorist organizations,” the source said. “The [Army’s] security plan was based on information that Abbas and others including [previous detainees] ... are merely members or groups among dozens of other groups created by Al-Qaeda and its offshoots, such as the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, the Nusra Front and the Jammal Jarrah Brigades."
Earlier this year, the Army arrested a senior commander in the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, Jamal Daftardar, as well as Sunni Sheikh Omar Atrash, who was charged with belonging to the brigades and Al-Qaeda, and involvement in two suicide attacks in Beirut’s southern suburb of Haret Hreik.
Daftardar has been charged with recruiting dozens of men and transferring them to Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen after training them to use weapons and make bombs.
Last year, the Army also arrested Sheikh Nawaf al-Hussein, whose case was linked that of Atrash.
Military Prosecutor Judge Saqr Saqr Thursday charged Hussein with involvement in the Haret Hreik attacks, and of belonging the Abdullah Azzam Brigades and Al-Qaeda.
The arrest of Abbas, who was seen as a “big catch,” was the result of an exchange of Lebanese and Western intelligence, the source said. The operation mirrored the Western-Lebanese cooperation that led to the arrest of Majid al-Majid, the head of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades who died in Army custody, he added.
Investigation into Abbas would be “extensive” given that he was the link between terrorist individuals and groups operating Lebanon and Syria, the source said.
Such groups facilitated the entry of explosive-rigged vehicles into Lebanon and recruited suicide bombers to carry out attacks in residential neighborhoods in Beirut’s southern suburbs and the Bekaa controlled by Hezbollah, the source added.
Upon his arrest, Abbas confessed that he had prepared a car bomb to be set off at a later date and that the car was left in Corniche al-Mazraa, the Army said Wednesday.
The source said Abbas was supposed to determine the target of the explosive-rigged vehicle after he "secured a path that would not draw suspicion from the Army or Hezbollah."
He was also supposed to pick the target of a vehicle the Army seized Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Military Investigative judge Nabil Wehbi interrogated Atrash in the presence of his lawyer, Tareq Shandab.
Atrash denied the charges, saying he confessed under duress and that he had signed some of the testimonies without knowledge of its content, the source said.
Military Investigative Judge Imad Zein issued an arrest warrant Thursday against a man identified as Mohammad Azzouz. for belonging to a terrorist group. His case was linked to Daftardar’s.