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Abbas formally charged in January attacks

Naim Abbas, a member of Abdullah Azzam Brigades, was arrested by the Lebanese army in Corniche Mazraa, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014. (The Daily Star/Lebanese Army Website, HO)

BEIRUT: Naim Abbas, the alleged mastermind of January’s bombings in the southern suburbs, was formally accused of involvement in the attacks Monday, as the investigation into a weekend attack targeting the Army in Hermel stalled with no breakthrough into the identity of the suicide bomber.

Military Prosecutor Saqr Saqr also charged 21 members of a terrorist network with belonging to Al-Qaeda-linked groups. The network includes Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinian citizens, but only four have been detained so far: Lebanese Bakri Mohammad al-Mahmoud, Omar Momtaz, Joumana Hmeid and Abbas, a Palestinian.

Shortly after his arrest earlier this month, information from Abbas’ confessions allowed the Army to dismantle a car laden with around 240 kilograms of explosives in a Beirut neighborhood.

Abbas’ interrogation also led to the detention of Hmeid, who was reportedly driving a rigged vehicle on the Arsal-Labweh road in east Lebanon along with two other women who were later released without charge.

Saqr accused the network of belonging to the Al-Qaeda-linked Abudallah Azzam Brigades and the Nusra Front in Lebanon, in addition to “carrying out terrorist acts by smuggling explosive-rigged vehicles from Syria into Lebanon with the aim of killing citizens, destroying public and private properties and serving a blow to the state’s authority and prestige.”

The two groups have claimed responsibility for several car bombings in the country, saying they were in retaliation for Hezbollah’s military role in Syria alongside forces loyal to President Bashar Assad.

If convicted, the suspects could face the death penalty.

Saqr referred the case to Military Investigative Judge Riyad Aby Ghayda. High-value detainees in such cases are usually held at the Defense Ministry or Rihaniya prison, under military intelligence supervision.

In a separate charge, Saqr accused Abbas of involvement in the two Haret Hreik car bombings on Jan. 2 and Jan. 21 as well as the murder and attempted murder of citizens.

Abbas was not charged with involvement in other attacks including bombings in Bir al-Abed and Ruwaiss last summer.

Abbas’ case is connected to that of detained preacher Sheikh Omar Atrash, who was also charged with having a role in the Beirut attacks.

Military Investigative judge Maroun Zakhour Monday issued an arrest warrant for Atrash over his alleged involvement in the twin suicide attacks against the Army in Sidon on Dec. 15, 2013.

Meanwhile, investigators continued to comb the scene of the weekend attack near the northeastern town of Hermel for evidence but have not yet uncovered the identity of the suicide bomber.

A blast near an Army checkpoint at the town’s entrance killed two soldiers and a civilian.

Investigators are analyzing the DNA remains of the suicide bomber, but no family member has come forth to report a missing relative who may be linked to the attack.

Forensics teams need to compare the DNA of the attacker with that of a close family member in order to establish his identity.

Part of the bomber’s face survived the attack, and investigators were able to extract one fingerprint. Saqr authorized the return of the remains of the two soldiers to their families for burial.

Investigators believe the car used in the bombing, a Grand Cherokee, was rigged in Syria. They believe that most of the cars used in recent bombings are SUVs because they are better able to traverse smuggling routes between Lebanon and Syria.

President Michel Sleiman called for the country’s various security agencies to cooperate and work together more, saying it would help prevent the spread of terrorism.

“It is important to maintain the coordination and exchange of information between the security and military agencies to reveal the criminals plotting evil actions to target the country,” Sleiman said during talks with the head of Army Intelligence, Brig. Gen. Edmond Fadel.

The president said such cooperation would make it easier for agencies to dismantle terrorist networks in the country and would contribute to maintaining stability.

Sleiman also stressed “the importance of the solidarity of the Lebanese against terrorist and criminal plots targeting the souls of innocent people and aiming at distorting stability.”

Lebanon has been the target of deadly blasts linked to Syria crisis, most of which have occurred in areas associated with Hezbollah.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 25, 2014, on page 4.

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Summary

Naim Abbas, the alleged mastermind of January's bombings in the southern suburbs, was formally accused of involvement in the attacks Monday, as the investigation into a weekend attack targeting the Army in Hermel stalled with no breakthrough into the identity of the suicide bomber.

Military Prosecutor Saqr Saqr also charged 21 members of a terrorist network with belonging to Al-Qaeda-linked groups. The network includes Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinian citizens, but only four have been detained so far: Lebanese Bakri Mohammad al-Mahmoud, Omar Momtaz, Joumana Hmeid and Abbas, a Palestinian.

In a separate charge, Saqr accused Abbas of involvement in the two Haret Hreik car bombings on Jan. 2 and Jan. 21 as well as the murder and attempted murder of citizens.

Abbas was not charged with involvement in other attacks including bombings in Bir al-Abed and Ruwaiss last summer.

Abbas' case is connected to that of detained preacher Sheikh Omar Atrash, who was also charged with having a role in the Beirut attacks.


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