Lebanon News

Army makes arrests to head off jihadist offensive spillover

An aerial view shows Syrian refugee tent camp in Arsal, Friday, June 13, 2014. (The Daily Star/Lebanese Army Website, HO)

BAALBEK, Lebanon: The Lebanese Army Friday arrested six Syrian terror suspects during a series of raids in the Bekaa Valley which aimed at preventing a possible fallout from recent dramatic developments in Iraq.

Speaking to The Daily Star, an Army source described the raids as a pre-emptive operation in order to thwart potential security incidents in Lebanon after the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), an Al-Qaeda splinter group, made major advances in Iraq.

“Yes, you can consider it as such, that’s true,” the source said in reference to the purpose of the operation. He described the arrests made as “important.”

“We will continue to take action every time we receive information [on suspects],” the source said, requesting to remain anonymous.

ISIS made swift and major advances against the Iraqi government this week, taking over Mosul, Iraq’s second city along with the city of Tikrit, and threatened Baghdad.

The group is battling the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad in Syria. Hezbollah is fighting for Assad and many fear that the recent victories of ISIS could trigger a resumption of attacks against areas associated with Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Last year and in early 2014, a series of bombings rocked Lebanese districts where Hezbollah enjoys wide support, specifically the Bekaa Valley and the Beirut southern suburbs. Many were claimed by Syrian rebel groups including ISIS, saying they came in retaliation to Hezbollah’s assistance of the Syrian regime.

In a statement, the Army said it carried out raids in the mountainous outskirts of Arsal in a search for gunmen and terror suspects.

The military said it detained a Syrian identified as Zaher Abdel-Aziz Ahmad for allegedly belonging to the Al-Qaeda-linked Abdullah Azzam Brigades. He was residing in a Syrian refugee site.

Soldiers also detained four Syrians identified as Nour Shamseddine, Haytham Nader Ghannoum, Adel Sleiman Ghannoum and Mohammad Nazih Ghannoum on suspicion of training with terrorist groups.

The Army confiscated computers, CDs and cameras that were in the possession of the suspects, which proved they received such training.

Investigation is underway with the suspects and they will be referred to the judiciary, the Army said.

The National News Agency said the military also arrested Syrian Yahya Abdallah al-Hussein in Mashari al-Qaa after confiscating drugs in his possession. The NNA said Hussein was a member of the terror group headed by detainee Omar al-Atrash. The military also captured Hussein al-Atrash, wanted for motorcycle thefts, in the village of Hawsh Sayyed Ali, the NNA said. The Army did not confirm the two arrests.

The military operation also came after several kidnapping operations were carried out in the Bekaa Valley by armed Syrian groups stationed along Lebanon’s border.

Security sources in the Bekaa Valley said Friday’s arrests were made during a raid at a Syrian refugee site near Arsal. They identified the detainees as being members of the Syrian opposition who had taken part in fighting in Syria’s Qalamoun region before fleeing into Arsal.

Meanwhile, Lebanese troops, backed by two helicopter gunships, intensified patrols near the border with Syria.

A security source in Beirut told The Daily Star earlier that the patrols were centered around the outskirts of Arsal and nearby ravines as well as the edges of Ras Baalbek.

The Army has also fortified its checkpoints in the Bekaa Valley, according to the source.

Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi said Thursday that the Cabinet would summon military and security chiefs to discuss the possible impact of the fast-moving developments in Iraq on the security situation in Lebanon.

Rifi’s remarks came after attending a Cabinet session that also discussed, among other issues, the capture of Tikrit and Mosul by ISIS.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 14, 2014, on page 2.




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