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Lebanon News

Army braces for wave of Nusra Front attacks

File - Lebanese army intelligence stand near a car rigged with explosives that was dismantled by military experts on the main Arsal-Labweh road, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014. (The Daily Star/Nidal Solh)

BEIRUT: Recent threats made by the Nusra Front in Lebanon to Shiite soldiers of the Lebanese Army over their alleged involvement in the fighting in Syria are part of a renewed attempt to instigate more dangerous terrorist activities on Lebanese soil, reliable sources recently revealed.

A security source confirmed that information made available to the Lebanese Army’s intelligence unit by Arab and Western sources contained stark warnings of what is to come in the next six months, saying it could be the worst phase witnessed by Lebanon in recent years.

The information suggests that terrorist attacks could increase in number, targeting embassies and diplomatic missions, as well as army and government institutions.

The Nusra Front in Lebanon, an offshoot of the Syrian rebel group, reiterated calls over the weekend for Lebanese Sunnis to defect from the army. It accused the military establishment of targeting Sunnis and serving Iranian interests.

It also said that there were some Shiite members of the army who were fighting in Syria.

According to the source, a European intelligence agency released a highly confidential report only a few days ago that identified a list of extremist group targets. The list includes Gulf embassies, particularly the Saudi, Kuwaiti and Qatari embassies; the American, Russian, Chinese, Turkish and French embassies; the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon that is deployed in the south; Lebanese security and military centers and institutions; mosques, churches and temples; and popular restaurants and entertainment centers.

The report also points to the potential assassination of political figures by such groups.

Lebanon has seen a spate of bombings targeting areas where Hezbollah enjoys wide support, including the southern suburbs of Beirut and the northeastern city of Hermel.

Al-Qaeda-linked groups have claimed responsibility for the bombings and have also warned of further attacks if Hezbollah refuses to bring its military campaign in neighboring Syria to an end.

Security forces have begun reinforcing their patrols in response, as well as secretly increasing the number of undercover officers deployed around certain embassies and government buildings.

Additional reinforcements have been deployed at the ESCWA building in Beirut’s central district in light of its importance and location. A special group was also deployed at the U.N. body’s headquarters, one of several such groups that have been formed to monitor activity around the area.

The same source also revealed a security operation that was being prepared by extremist groups aiming to blow up an important military academy in Beirut, but security and military forces managed to thwart the operation and apprehend the plotter at the last minute.

Information gleaned from the investigations into the foiled operation could lead to the uncovering of one of the largest and most dangerous terrorist networks in Lebanon.

Included in the network’s potential operations are an attack on the military school in Baabda’s Fayadieh, using a rigged car driven by a suicide bomber, and a strike on the Russian Embassy with rockets launched from afar, as well as the assassination of a number of key political, religious, and diplomatic figures.

Other targets included the homes of high-ranking army officers in the southern Beirut neighborhood of Bir Hasan, the staff college in Fayadieh, Hezbollah offices in Beirut’s southern suburbs, Baalbek, and Nabatieh.

The security source pointed out that extremist fighters have also been sneaking into Syria from Lebanon, and that the Lebanese Army had managed to detain some of them.

According to information made available to The Daily Star, Lebanese fighters snuck into Syria a week ago through the Arsal-Wadi Hamid road toward Raqqa province to join the Free Syrian Army’s Green Battalion, formed by Syrian dissident Major Nidal Walid Bakkour, 38.

Bakkour joined the Syrian air force academy in 1996 and graduated in 1998 as a lieutenant specializing in ground radars. He then defected and formed the Green Battalion on May 6, 2012.

The Green Battalion is working to expand its military forces and recruit more soldiers, and is considered one of the Free Syrian Army’s most elite forces. Its members include Gulf nationals, particularly Saudis and Kuwaitis, as well as Yemeni, Chechen and Egyptian nationals.

Its members are also equipped with a wide array of weapons and the battalion is heavily involved in the fighting in Syria. It is particularly active in the Qalamoun region, where a number of its fighters were killed, notably Ahmad al-Braiki, also known as Abu Mohjen al-Omani, who died during the raid of Deir Atieh Hospital in Qalamoun.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 11, 2014, on page 3.

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Summary

Recent threats made by the Nusra Front in Lebanon to Shiite soldiers of the Lebanese Army over their alleged involvement in the fighting in Syria are part of a renewed attempt to instigate more dangerous terrorist activities on Lebanese soil, reliable sources recently revealed.

It also said that there were some Shiite members of the army who were fighting in Syria.

The security source pointed out that extremist fighters have also been sneaking into Syria from Lebanon, and that the Lebanese Army had managed to detain some of them.

According to information made available to The Daily Star, Lebanese fighters snuck into Syria a week ago through the Arsal-Wadi Hamid road toward Raqqa province to join the Free Syrian Army's Green Battalion, formed by Syrian dissident Major Nidal Walid Bakkour, 38 .

Bakkour joined the Syrian air force academy in 1996 and graduated in 1998 as a lieutenant specializing in ground radars.


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