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.”
Last month, 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, Yemen and Afghanistan after training them to use weapons and make bombs.
Last year, the Army also arrested Sheikh Nawaf al-Hussein, whose case was linked to that of Atrash.
Military Prosecutor Judge Saqr Saqr Thursday charged Hussein with involvement in the Haret Hreik attacks, and of belonging to Al-Qaeda and the Abdullah Azzam Brigades.
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 hospital while he was 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 explosives-laden vehicles into Lebanon and recruited suicide bombers to carry out attacks in residential neighborhoods controlled by Hezbollah in Beirut’s southern suburbs and the Bekaa, 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 vehicle was left in Corniche al-Mazraa, the Army said Wednesday.
The source added that Abbas was supposed to determine the target of the explosives-laden vehicle after he had “secured a path that would not draw suspicion from the Army or Hezbollah.”
Abbas was also supposed to pick the target of a vehicle that 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 A. for belonging to a terrorist group. Mohammad’s case was linked to Daftardar’s.
Progressive Socialist Party MP Walid Jumblatt praised the Army’s success in cracking down on terrorist cells.
“These [Army] steps have once again confirmed that there is no substitute for the state and its security agencies which are working under difficult and complicated circumstances aggravated by internal political divisions and the raging regional fires,” the Druze lawmaker said in a statement.
“Amid mounting security and terrorist challenges, the security performance has sent a strong message that the state, when it makes up its mind, can achieve much,” Jumblatt added.
Jumblatt saluted the Army and all security apparatuses for this achievement and for their continued efforts to control the security situation and maintain stability.
Meanwhile, the Lebanese Army and Internal Security Forces have tightened security in Sidon to forestall any possible reaction from militant groups following the arrest of Abbas, who lived in the Palestinian camp of Ain al-Hilweh near the southern coastal city.
The Army beefed up security measures at military posts in Sidon, closing the main road near the Zugheib barracks with cement barricades, metal barriers and barbed wire.
Troops also fortified military positions east of Sidon and in the southern town of Zahrani.
In an attempt to prevent bomb-laden vehicles from entering Lebanon, the Army used bulldozers to increase mounds of earth in areas near the border with Syria, particularly in Syrian territory near the northeastern town of Arsal up to the mountainous area of the town of Brital.
The Army set up checkpoints on the Arsal-Labweh road, searching cars coming out of Arsal.
Arsal’s residents reacted with shock and condemnation to the news that an explosives-laden car seized by the Army Wednesday had come from their town.
They rejected charges of terrorism in their town and urged the Army to tightly control the border with Syria to prevent rigged vehicles from entering Lebanese territory from Syria.
The Lebanese Army said Wednesday that it had thwarted an attempt to deliver a vehicle filled with explosives from Syria to suicide bombers in Lebanon.
It said the car, a silver Kia, was seized and that its occupants – three women – were all arrested.
The Kia had come from Yabroud in Syria and was destined for Beirut, the Army said, adding that the three women intended to transfer the car to suicide bombers.