TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Tensions ran high in Lebanon’s second largest city Sunday after a terror suspect was killed and a wanted Salafist militiaman was arrested overnight during raids carried out by Lebanese security forces, security sources told The Daily Star on Sunday.
Supporters of militiaman Hussam al-Sabbagh – one of those who orchestrated clashes related to the Syrian war - took to the streets and blocked road in Tripoli as the Lebanese Army worked on clearing the streets and restoring calm, the sources said.
The Army blocked the road near the Abu Ali roundabout over fears of sniper fire from Bab al-Tabbaneh, where around 150 men brandished their weapons again and deployed heavily inside the impoverished neighborhood that has long served as Sabbagh’s main quarters, the sources added.
Sabbagh is considered as the military commander of Salafists in Tripoli and his arrest is likely to spark a wave of anger within Islamist circles, according to the sources. They added that Sabbagh was immediately transferred to the military prison at the Defense Ministry in Beirut.
The eventful night also witnessed the killing of suspected terrorist Monzer al-Hassan, accused of providing a terror cell with explosives, during a raid of his apartment at 1 a.m. in the posh City Complex building in Tripoli.
Security forces had intelligence that Hassan provided explosive belts and material to a terrorist cell that was planning to carry out major attacks in Lebanon. Late in June, a Saudi suicide bomber blew himself up at the capital’s Duroy Hotel during a raid by General Security personnel. A would-be suicide bomber survived the blast and is undergoing interrogation. Hassan is suspected of being the main supplier of the two Saudi bombers.
The sources said Hassan was killed during clashes with security forces at the apartment that lasted from 1 a.m. to 3:30 a.m. The 24-year-old was wearing an explosives belt and had threatened to blow himself up.
The Army attempted to negotiate with Hassan in a bid to convince him to surrender, even asking his paternal aunt to take part in the negotiations. But Hassan was killed after tossing a stun grenade at security personnel that were holding him up at the apartment.
The sources said Hassan was using the apartment of one of his cousins.
“Coordination between various security apparatus has paid off,” head of the Higher Relief Committee Maj. Gen. Mohammad Kheir told reporters following a tour of the City Complex apartment.
Shortly after the City Complex raid, the army arrested Sabbagh, who is wanted for dozens of outstanding arrest warrants for his pivotal role in fighting this year between the Tripoli neighborhoods of majority Sunni Bab al-Tabbaneh, where pro-Syrian revolution sentiments prevail and the predominately Alawite Jabal Mohsen.
The sources said the Army arrested Sabbagh at the Al-Manar checkpoint in Tripoli. An Army statement said Sabbagh along with Mohammad Ali Ismail Ismail were both arrested at the checkpoint and transferred to the concerned judiciary for interrogation.
Following the arrests, an urgent meeting was held at the residence of a top Salafist sheikh, Salem al-Rafei, to discuss “escalatory measures,” they added.
The sources feared a renewal of tensions in the northern coastal city, reminiscent of violence witnessed in the past few years before the formation of the Tammam Salam government and the implementation of a nationwide security plan.
Back in April, the Lebanese Army launched a security plan in the northern city, which resulted in the arrest of dozens of gunmen and militia commanders from both Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen neighborhoods. The security crackdown largely brought calm to Tripoli, which had witnessed numerous rounds of violence over the last several years, linked to the civil war in Syria.