HERMEL/BEIRUT: Three teens were briefly kidnapped and tortured over the weekend in the town of Arsal over a dispute regarding the trading of cigarettes, with separate media reports linking the abduction to the Nusra Front. The kidnappers, a group of Syrians, abducted the boys, also Syrian and all younger than 16, beat them up and broke their fingers, according to a security source.
Town Deputy Mayor Ahmad Fliti told The Daily Star Sunday that the incident was over a dispute over the trading of cigarettes, but according to the National News Agency, the kidnappers accused the boys of stealing a motorcycle.
Media reports identified the kidnappers as members of the Al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, a radical group fighting government forces in the Syrian civil war.
Islamist groups fighting in Syria – such as the Nusra Front – have been known to physically punish people under the pretext of applying Shariah law.
One of the boys was identified as Hasan Shaheen; the other two are from the Smaili family.
They were snatched from the northeastern town of Arsal at around 9 p.m. Saturday and were detained for seven hours in the outskirts of the border town before being released Sunday at 4 a.m.
They were all transferred to Arsal’s field hospital for treatment.
The wider Arsal area, which previously had a population of 35,000, is hosting more than 50,000 Syrian refugees. The outskirts of the town have become a hub for Syrian militants who crossed into Lebanon after Syrian government troops wrested control of the country’s border areas from rebels earlier this year.
Kidnappings and security incidents have risen significantly in the Sunni-dominated town, where most residents oppose Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime.
Early Saturday, an explosion went off in the town that turned out to be caused by an improvised explosive device placed inside a Kia with a foreign license plate.
According to a statement by the Lebanese Army, the explosion, which occurred at 1:25 a.m., wounded two people, who were transported to a hospital.
An Army patrol and a military expert immediately deployed to the scene. The device was packed with 2 kilograms of explosives, according to the statement.
Lebanon was hit by a spate of car bombings earlier this year and late last year, with Islamist radical groups claiming responsibility for most of the explosions, saying they were punishing Hezbollah for its military involvement in Syria alongside Assad.
The groups have also vowed not to spare the Army, accusing it of cooperating with the party.
Three soldiers were killed and four others wounded in a suicide car bomb attack on a military post in Arsal in March.
Separately, an Al-Qaeda-affiliated group’s religious guide vowed Sunday that Islamists imprisoned in Lebanon’s prisons would be liberated.
“Preach to our prisoners in Lebanon and especially Roumieh Prison, and in the Defense Ministry, that your liberation is our main aim, and I say to your imprisoners: Today you arrest our men, tomorrow you will be arrested!” Sheikh Sirajeddine Zuraiqat of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades tweeted.
Some 300 Islamist prisoners have been detained without trial since 2007 on suspicion of belonging to the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Fatah al-Islam group and fighting the Army during deadly clashes that year in the northern Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared.
They have since been behind several riots inside Roumieh Prison.
Zuraiqat wrote that the group would not forget any of the Muslim prisoners, and that Sunnis did not accept the oppression being exercised against them in the country.
“How many criminal Lebanese leaders have been proven to have worked with the Jews [Israel]? Where are the executions? Or are they only for Sunnis?” he asked.
Zuraiqat wrote that if Lebanon had a “just” criminal law, all of the prominent Lebanese leaders would be imprisoned, including Speaker Nabih Berri, Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun, and Kataeb leader Amine Gemayel.
“The death penalty in Lebanon is for Sunni youths, and innocence for the agents of the Jews and spies,” Zuraiqat tweeted.
“The Sunni spends 10 years in prison over a suspicion! And an agent for the Jews is released within months!”
The Abdullah Azzam Brigades have claimed responsibility for a number of deadly attacks in Lebanon. The group was formed in 2009 with the goal of carrying out attacks against Western interests in the Middle East.