Lebanon News

Army releases photo of suspect in Hermel attack

Relatives mourn over the coffin of Army officer Elias Khoury, who was killed in a suicide attack at a checkpoint in Hermel, during his funeral in his hometown of Fakiha, Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014. (The Daily Star/Nidal Solh)

BEIRUT: The Lebanese Army released a photo Tuesday of a man suspected of being the suicide bomber behind last week’s attack against a checkpoint in northeast Lebanon, as funerals were held for the two soldiers killed in the attack.

In a sign of the broadening security challenge facing the country, a massive car bomb that was discovered by the Army earlier this month was likely rigged by a new, unknown terrorist group operating in the country, a security source told The Daily Star.

The military published the picture of a man “wanted for dangerous crimes,” which a security source said belonged to the suspected suicide bomber who detonated an explosive-rigged black Grand Cherokee at the entrance of the northeastern town of Hermel Saturday.

The announcement urged anyone with information to call 1701, use the LAF Shield mobile application or contact the nearest military base.

The bombing killed Army officer Elias Khoury, soldier Hamzeh Faitruny and Mohammad Ayyoub, a civilian, and wounded 17 others.

The Nusra Front in Lebanon, an offshoot of the radical rebel group in Syria, claimed responsibility for the bombing, citing Hezbollah’s role in the war-torn country.

Meanwhile, the families of Khoury, 25, in the eastern town of Zahle and Faitruny, 26, in Baalbek held funerals for the victims.

During the funeral Mass for Khoury, a representative of Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi said the officer’s career in the military was of great value, saying his “martyrdom” was an honor to every soldier.

Dressed in black and weeping uncontrollably, Khoury’s relatives carried his coffin covered with the Lebanese flag to the cemetery.

In a statement, the Nusra Front in Lebanon said Monday that Hezbollah had made the Lebanese Army a target by enlisting its protection and asking it to turn a blind eye to the party’s role in Syria.

The militants also called on the country’s “rational” citizens to stay out of its war with Hezbollah.

The Al-Qaeda-linked group has claimed responsibility for three other bombings this year, all in areas associated with Hezbollah, including Beirut’s southern suburbs, in retaliation for the party’s fighting Syria on the side of the regime.

But in a sign of the expanding challenge of extremism, a security source told The Daily Star that a quarter-ton car bomb discovered in the town of Ham near Baalbek was probably prepared by an as-yet-unidentified group.

The type of explosives used in the car bomb and the way they were laid out were both different compared to other recent car bombs, the source said. The bomb itself was primed to explode either remotely or manually.

“We believe it could be the work of an unknown group,” the security source said.

The Lebanese Army dismantled on Feb. 16 a rigged car laden with around 240 kilograms of explosives, the largest bomb seized by the military since the start of the recent wave of bombings in Lebanon.

At the time, the Army said in a statement that around 240 kilograms of explosives were found in a four-wheel drive Toyota RAV4, in addition to 10 kilograms of flammable material and two 122-mm-caliber artillery shells.

The Army said it chased and opened fire at the suspicious car that morning on the outskirts of the Baalbek village of Ham. Soldiers were able to seize the car, the statement said, but the driver managed to escape.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 26, 2014, on page 3.




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