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Lebanon News

Army arrests a Nusra Front commander in Arsal

File - Lebanese soldiers searching civilians at a checkpoint at the entrance of Arsal in east Lebanon. AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

HERMEL/BEIRUT: The Lebanese Army scored another high-profile arrest with the capture of a suspected leader of the Nusra Front, as authorities charged the alleged mastermind of two bombings in the southern suburbs with new crimes.

Nidal Sweidan, a Syrian national who is suspected of being a leader in the Al-Qaeda-linked group, was captured during an Army raid at the home of an Arsal resident, security sources told The Daily Star.

The capture of Sweidan, who sources say is suspected of carrying out terrorist attacks in east Lebanon, is the latest in a string of arrests of several commanders affiliated with militant groups operating in Syria including the Abdullah Azzam Brigades and the Lebanon branch of the Nusra Front.

The Lebanese offshoot of the Nusra Front, a radical group fighting against the regime of embattled President Bashar Assad, has claimed responsibility for three deadly attacks in the country this year including last week’s suicide car bombing at an Army post in the northeastern town of Hermel.

Saturday’s bombing killed three people including two soldiers.

News of the arrest emerged as the state-run National News Agency said that Army Intelligence had detained a man in east Lebanon suspected of funding a detained terror suspect, Palestinian Naim Abbas, who is the alleged mastermind behind two bombings in Beirut’s southern suburbs.

Abbas has been accused along with 20 others of belonging to two Al-Qaeda-linked terrorist groups, the Nusra Front in Lebanon and the Abdullah Azzam Brigades.

Both groups have claimed responsibility for recent car bombings in areas often associated with Hezbollah, claiming the attacks were in retaliation for Hezbollah’s decision to fight in Syria alongside government forces.

The network allegedly includes Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinian nationals, but so far only four, including Abbas, who is Palestinian, have been detained.

The alleged financier’s arrest is the latest step in a widening judicial battle against Abbas and his network. Security sources said the alleged financier had handed over $20,000 to Abbas at a meeting in Jounieh. Military Investigative Judge Imad Zein Wednesday issued a new arrest warrant for Abbas, on charges of belonging to an armed group, plotting terror attacks in Lebanon and forging identification papers, judicial sources told The Daily Star.

Abbas has been in custody since Feb. 12. He will be questioned over the new charges next week, the sources said, adding that his interrogation was postponed to allow him to appoint a lawyer.

Abbas has already been charged in connection with the two Haret Hreik car bombings on Jan. 2 and Jan. 21, as well as with the murder and attempted murder of citizens.

The two attacks took place mere meters away from Hezbollah’s political council building, and together killed nine people and wounded over 120 others.

The new charges were reportedly issued based on Abbas’ links to Jamal Daftardar, a commander in the Abdullah Azzam Brigades who was arrested on Jan. 15.

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

The Abdullah Azzam Brigades claimed responsibility for suicide bombings near the Iranian Embassy and Cultural Center in Bir Hasan.

The interlocking ties offer a glimpse at the complex web of militant networks that pose a challenge to Lebanese security services struggling to contain the fallout of the war in Syria.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 27, 2014, on page 1.

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