BEIRUT: The Lebanese authorities launched a fresh crackdown on extremist militants, charging over two dozen individuals with membership in the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) and orchestrating terrorist attacks in the country.
Among the suspects is a man believed to be a supplier of explosive belts to suicide bombers who remains at large, as well as a Saudi and French national, a judicial source told The Daily Star.
Military Prosecutor Saqr Saqr Monday charged 28 people with belonging to ISIS and planning terrorist operations in Lebanon.
The 28 suspects, seven of whom were arrested in security raids on hotels in Beirut, were charged with “affiliation to ISIS to perform terrorist operations using suicide vests, rigged cars, as well as the purchase of weapons and explosives to train suicide bombers in Lebanon.”
The planned suicide bombings were meant to target residential neighborhoods in Beirut, the National News Agency reported.
One of the suspects is a Saudi citizen arrested in a raid late last month at the Duroy Hotel in Raouche, and another is a French citizen originally from the Comoros Islands who was arrested in a raid by security forces at the Napoleon Hotel, the source said.
Lebanese, Palestinian and Syrian citizens are among the suspects still at large.
One of the suspects is Monzer al-Hasan, who is accused of supplying explosive belts to suicide bombers. Hasan remains at large, but three members of his group are among the suspects in custody, the source said.
Saqr referred the case to Military Investigative Judge Riad Abu Ghida, with the suspects expected to be given the death penalty if convicted.
ISIS and Al-Qaeda offshoots claimed responsibility for a string of bombings and rocket attacks on areas where Hezbollah enjoys broad popular support. They have threatened more attacks in Lebanon if Hezbollah does not withdraw from neighboring Syria, where fighters from the party are fighting alongside forces loyal to President Bashar Assad. Hezbollah claims its fighting there has spared Lebanon an influx of extremists.
Three attacks last month – suicide bombings in Dahr al-Baidar and Shiyah in Beirut, as well as the hotel raids raised concerns that Lebanon may once again succumb to a security breakdown after months of calm.
The crackdown on militants also extended to Tripoli, Lebanon’s second largest city where the military arrested two foreign nationals accused of breaching security, and where five men were arrested for tossing grenades at several restaurants and cafes.
The Army statement said raids in Tripoli led to the arrest of Ali Hasan Nemri, Fayez Fawwaz Othman, Raja Mohammad Toufic Hijazi and Mohammad Mahmoud Ghassan for tossing hand grenades at several restaurants, cafes and carts last week and threatening citizens.
Authorities say the cafe assaults were a message to both coffee shop owners and cafe-goers for opening during fasting hours in Ramadan.
Separately, the Army statement said an Army patrol arrested in Tripoli a Sudanese national Adolph Nicholas Neyluk and a Tunisian national Nader bin Omar bin Mohammad al-Biri for staying in Lebanon without proper residency documents and on suspicion that the two men were engaged in activities that breached security.
Those arrested were transferred to the judiciary for further interrogation, the statement said.
An Army source said the two men belonged to terrorist groups, and that an investigation is ongoing in the case. The source declined to provide more details, saying they might compromise further investigations.
A grenade exploded during the day near Abou Elie’s cafe in a Tripoli neighborhood, burning one car without causing any casualties.
The bombing occurred in Arz Street in Tripoli’s Qibbeh area, the latest in a string of incidents that have shaken an uneasy peace in the city.