BEIRUT: Terrorist cells are regularly making their way into Beirut, readying themselves to conduct more suicide bombings in Lebanon, security sources told The Daily Star Tuesday.
According to information provided to a Lebanese security officer and relayed to The Daily Star, Nusra Front-affiliated cell members are sneaking into the heart of Beirut from the mountainous outskirts of Arsal in eastern Lebanon and are ready to undergo suicide bombings. Members of some of these cells have received intensive trainings in secret locations in Arsal’s Wadi Hmayed by a Syrian national identified as Naaman A.
There are also several members of fundamentalist groups staying in different apartments and hotels across the Lebanese capital, as well as in Palestinian refugee camps.
According to the information, these individuals enter Lebanon via the Qalamoun areas of Rankous and Flita in Syria with the help of a Lebanese individual identified as Ibrahim Q. A.
There are also 28 rigged cars that are being kept in secret locations in Arsal, Western Bekaa, Tripoli, and the Beirut neighborhood of Tariq al-Jadideh, some in camouflaged garages so as not to attract attention. Security forces are currently working on tracking them down and ascertaining the identity of their owners.
There are fears that some of the attacks will take place in Christian towns in the northern Bekaa region in light of obtained information.
Lebanon has been plagued by a spate of suicide bombings, most of which have targeted largely Muslim areas where Hezbollah enjoys wide support, such as Beirut’s southern suburbs and Hermel in east Lebanon. After around three months of calm, the attacks renewed late last month.
Radical Islamist groups claiming responsibility for the attacks have said they would keep targeting the party as long as it sends its fighters into Syria in support of President Bashar Assad’s regime.
According to one of the security reports, “The security situation is very sensitive due to developments in the region, and could witness an evolution in the type of suicide operations.”
The report includes information of the existence of a Syrian activist named Mahmoud A. who oversees the movements of a five-member cell of suicide bombers. His name came up during investigation with suspects arrested last month in Bekaa.
High-ranking security sources said they were surprised at the leaking of the content of some telegrams carrying security information that were meant to be confidential.
They added security forces were monitoring the movement of suspicious persons and “dormant cells” that are watching certain political figures and party, religious, and security headquarters, especially following the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria’s (ISIS) control of provinces in Iraq and their calls to target Shiites and Christians in the region.
The sources refused to reveal any information regarding preventative measures being taken as their importance lies in the element of surprise. They did reveal, however, the difficulty in pursuing cells involved in suicide bombings, but said they were reassured by the Lebanese people’s level of vigilance and praised the political parties’ wide support for the security forces’ work.
Sources also confirmed to The Daily Star that a suicide bomber who blew himself up in Baghdad Sunday was a Lebanese identified as Mustapha Abdel-Hay, better known as Abu Hafs al-Lubnani, and hails from the Tripoli neighborhood of Mankoubin.
He fought alongside Nusra Front in Syria’s Homs and later decamped to join the ISIS. He was active in the battlefields of Aleppo prior to Iraq.
His family did not receive condolences after his death was announced, and relatives have isolated themselves, neighbors in Mankoubin said. The young man, believed to be no more than 20, blew himself up near a public restaurant.
Abdel Hay is thought to be the first Lebanese to die in the fighting in Iraq since ISIS took control of the key Mosul city last month.
Also Tuesday, investigative Judge Riad Abu Ghayda interrogated the Saudi would-be suicide bomber and issued an arrest warrant against him on charges of belonging to a terrorist group and planning attacks in Lebanon.
Ali Ibrahim al-Thawani was arrested last month after his partner blew himself up at the Duroy Hotel in Beirut to evade arrest during a General Security raid.
General Security personnel transported Thawani from the detention center in Mathaf to Abu Ghayda’s office amid tight security measures because the man is considered to be “the most dangerous member of the terror cell,” a judicial source said.
Thawani was charged a day earlier with belonging to ISIS, possessing explosives – both a bomb-laden vehicle and a suicide belt – and recruiting people for attacks against residential areas in Lebanon.
Charges were also issued against 27 others, including a French citizen originally from the Comoro Islands who was arrested in a raid by security services at the Napoleon Hotel in Hamra June 20.
Thawani was apprehended 24 hours before he and his partner were to carry out a planned suicide attack against a popular restaurant in Beirut’s southern suburbs.
Additionally, the Lebanese Army said in a statement Tuesday that troops have rounded up some 1,100 suspects from different nationalities during the month of June on a variety of charges ranging from terrorism to staying in Lebanon illegally.
The statement said the arrests were carried across Lebanon as part of a security crackdown implemented by the Army to curb car-bomb attacks and suspected jihadist activities.
The Army also confiscated 172 cars and 129 motorcycles from drivers who did not have proper papers, and seized arms, ammunitions and military equipment, the statement said. Many of the suicide bombings were carried out with stolen cars or vehicles with forged papers.
Separately, Nabatieh Governor Mahmoud Mawla chaired a district security meeting where he stressed the need to improve security measures with the cooperation of the military and security services.
Mawla also called for the reinforcement of ISF checkpoints in Nabatieh in order to maintain the governorate’s safety and security, calling for the prosecution of owners of unregistered cars.