Lebanon News

Berri top target on extremist hit list

File - Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri arrives at the National Dialogue session held at Baabda Palace, Lebanon, on Monday, June 25, 2012. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

Speaker Nabih Berri is one of the main targets placed on the hit list by Muslim fundamentalist groups in Lebanon, according to a list obtained by the Internal Security Forces’ Information Branch, security sources have told The Daily Star.

Berri’s assassination would incite Sunni-Shiite strife because all analyses indicate that if the speaker is targeted, members of his Amal Movement would take retaliatory action in areas in Beirut where both Sunnis and Shiites live, the sources added.

Security agencies have warned Berri of a suspected scheme to assassinate him orchestrated by the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Abdullah Azzam Brigades, the sources said.

Mahmoud Abu Aalfa, a member of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades who is currently in custody, has confessed to plotting to assassinate Berri either by placing a sniper with a view of the speaker’s Beirut residence in Ain al-Tineh, or by sending suicide bombers on motorbikes, who would attack Berri’s fake motorcade as a car bomb simultaneously targeted his real motorcade, the sources said.

An official security apparatus recently presented a report to Berri in which it said that, following the assassination of Hezbollah commander Hassan Houlo Lakkis in Beirut’s southern suburbs, suspicious activity around the speaker had increased. This included a number of people with binoculars monitoring his residence from the rooftops of neighboring buildings, while others in a grey Cherokee vehicle took photographs of the surrounding area.

This was in addition to the possibility of a fundamentalist cell monitoring his residence in the southern coastal town of Msaileh, the sources said.

Media reports said last month that Abu Aalfa told interrogators he had been assigned with carrying out a suicide attack targeting the speaker.

A local newspaper had quoted a senior Lebanese official as saying that Abu Aalfa claimed a number of individuals had been tasked with monitoring all the entrances to Berri’s headquarters in Ain al-Tineh, as well as places frequented by the speaker.

Abu Aalfa was detained in the wake of the Feb. 19 twin suicide bomb attack against the Iranian Cultural Center in Beirut.

The attack, claimed by the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, killed at least 11 people and wounded more than 100 others.

The latest in a spate of deadly car bombings and suicide attacks targeting areas in Beirut’s southern suburbs and the Bekaa region, where Hezbollah enjoys wide support, it was carried out by Al-Qaeda-linked groups in response to Hezbollah’s military intervention in Syria, where its troops are fighting alongside President Bashar Assad’s forces.

According to information obtained from sources close to Berri, the speaker received serious information from Hezbollah’s central security apparatus about a plot to target him.

The information was relayed to Berri by Wafic Safa, Hezbollah’s head of security, who told him that those seeking to incite strife and destabilize the country had put the speaker at the top of their list of priorities.

The elimination of Berri, a prominent Shiite leader, would have serious repercussions on the workings of Lebanon’s political life, the most important of which would be the absence of a speaker to run Parliament.

This would make it extremely difficult to call the legislature to meet and elect a new president, to consider a number of draft laws, or even to prepare for a new extension of Parliament’s mandate in Nov.

Hence, Berri’s security team has reinforced protection around his Ain al-Tineh residence, asked him to reduce his movements and to seek assistance from security experts in order to assist his security chief Ahmad Baalbaki.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 12, 2014, on page 3.




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