Lebanon News

Hezbollah undeterred by ISIS claim, threats

Relatives of Ali Khadra mourn at his funeral procession in Beirut’s southern suburbs. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

BEIRUT: A day after the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) claimed responsibility for last week’s car bomb in Beirut’s southern suburbs, Hezbollah said Sunday it would not e deterred by such attacks or end its military intervention in Syria as demanded by anti-regime rebel groups.It was the first claim by the Al-Qaeda-linked group of a bomb attack in Lebanon, ushering in a new era of violence as the country is increasingly caught in the crossfire of the war in Syria.

Meanwhile, Majid al-Majid, the suspected leader of an Al-Qaeda-affiliated group, died in a military hospital in Beirut Saturday before Lebanese investigators could question him on the twin suicide bombings outside the Iranian Embassy in Beirut claimed by his group.

Caretaker Justice Minister Shakib Qortbawi, citing a coroner’s report, said Majid’s deteriorating health had led to the death of the leader of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades.

“The coroner’s report showed that Majid died of natural causes because his health condition had deteriorated,” Qortbawi told The Daily Star.

In a TV interview, Qortbawi cited the causes of Majid’s death as kidney failure, lung problems and a virus infection. He added that Majid was in a coma two hours before his death.

In claiming responsibility for the Jan. 2 car bombing in the Haret Hreik neighborhood in Beirut’s southern suburbs, ISIS vowed a heavier retaliation for Hezbollah’s military intervention in Syria on the side of President Bashar Assad’s forces, saying last week’s attack was the “first small payment of a heavy account.”

The bombing in the densely populated neighborhood of Haret Hreik, where Hezbollah enjoys strong support, killed four people and wounded 77 others.

It was the latest in a series of car bombings targeting Hezbollah’s areas in the southern suburbs in response to the party’s military involvement in Syria.

“In light of the Islamic State’s security effort, [we] were able to break into the borders and infiltrate the security system of the party of Satan [Hezbollah] in Lebanon and attack it in the heart of its bastion, which is also known as its security perimeter in Beirut’s southern suburbs,” ISIS said in a statement posted on a website used by the Sunni militants.

The car bomb was “the first payment of a heavy account that awaits these shameless criminals,” it added.

The Army confirmed the Haret Hreik attack was carried out by a suicide bomber identified as Qotaiba Mohammad al-Satem, a Lebanese who hailed from Wadi Khaled in the northern region of Akkar.

The military’s announcement came after forensic experts crosschecked DNA tests on human remains found in the explosive-rigged vehicle used in the blast as well as on the victims and Satem’s father.

But Hezbollah vowed not to cave in under car bomb attacks. Such attacks have targeted areas in the southern suburbs where support for the party is high.

“No matter what the size of crimes and car bombs reached, we will not change our position in Syria or in Lebanon. The [political] equations in both countries will not change,” Sheikh Nabil Qaouk, deputy head of Hezbollah’s Executive Council, told a memorial ceremony for Iman Hijazi and her stepdaughter Malak Zahwi, who were killed in the Haret Hreik explosion, in the southern village of Majdal Slim.

“It is not surprising for the Army, the people and the resistance to be a first priority target by takfiri factions and for us to be targeted by this terrorism ... But this targeting will not weaken the determination of the most honorable people, the people of the resistance,” he said.

“Anyone who thinks that we will succumb to crimes or that he is able to terrorize is under illusion. We are the maker of victories in any war we fight and we are not those who leave the battlefield or surrender no matter how massive the bombing is,” Qaouk said.

He defended Hezbollah’s military intervention in Syria, saying it was designed to confront takfiri groups in the strife-torn country.

“Since we went to Syria, we have put an end to the crimes of those takfiri terrorists. The international community and the peoples of our [Arab] nation are today aware of our solid position that the battle is with takfiris and not with the Syrian people,” Qaouk said.

Meanwhile, the sudden death of Majid has deprived authorities in Lebanon and elsewhere of a chance to find out secrets and information about bombings claimed by his group across the Middle East or plans for new attacks.

Following Majid’s death, Military Prosecutor Judge Saqr Saqr requested an autopsy be carried out, a judicial source said.

Majid’s death came only two days after Lebanese authorities verified his identity through DNA tests.

The Abdullah Azzam Brigades has claimed responsibility for the Nov. 19 twin suicide bombings outside the Iranian Embassy in Beirut that killed 30 people, including a diplomat. Majid was wanted by Riyadh, Washington and Beirut.

Iran has filed an official request to take part in the investigation into the attack on its embassy.

It has also demanded an autopsy on his corpse to determine the cause of his death.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is expected to visit Beirut on Jan. 13 for talks with Lebanese officials on the political crisis in Lebanon and the war in Syria.

Speaking to several Lebanese TV stations, Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Awad Asiri said Majid’s family had requested that the body of their son be extradited to bury him in his home country.

The Saudi ambassador told Al-Watan newspaper that the repatriation of Majid’s body “depends on the joint cooperation between Saudi and Lebanese authorities.”

“The repatriation of Majid’s body also needs to take into account the family’s wishes in order to know what measures to take,” he said. Asiri indicated that a delegation from the Saudi Embassy would look into Majid’s autopsy.

Two victims from the Haret Hreik bombing, 17-year-old Ali Khadra and Adnan Awali, were laid to rest in separate neighborhoods in Beirut’s southern suburbs Saturday.

Draped with a Hezbollah flag, Khadra’s coffin was carried shoulder high by relatives and friends in a crowded funeral procession.

At Awali’s funeral procession, Hezbollah MP Ali Ammar criticized March 14 politicians, who he alleged were justifying the bombings in the southern suburbs.

For his part, Akkar MP Khaled Daher voiced doubts that Satem was the suicide bomber involved in the Haret Hreik explosion.

“There are a lot of doubts [surrounding the bombing],” he told a news conference at his residence in the northern city of Tripoli.

Daher accused the Iranian security agency along with the Syrian regime and Hezbollah of responsibility for the Haret Hreik blast as well as last month’s car bomb that killed former Finance Minister Mohammad Shatah and seven others in Downtown Beirut.

Daher warned that that the security situation in Lebanon would deteriorate further if Hezbollah did not end its military intervention in Syria.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 06, 2014, on page 3.




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