ARSAL, Lebanon: The Lebanese Army pledged to carry on the fight against terrorism after a deadly suicide attack over the weekend in northeastern Lebanon claimed the lives of three soldiers and wounded eight others.
A radical group calling itself Liwaa Ahrar al-Sunna-Baalbek published a photograph purported to be of the suicide bomber who attacked the “crusader Army” on its Twitter account, revealing his name as Abdul-Qader al-Taan.
A black Kia loaded with 100 kg of TNT exploded Saturday as it drove past a recently erected military checkpoint on the outskirts of Arsal.
A Syrian refugee and her child were shot dead outside the town shortly after the explosion when their driver panicked near the checkpoint, in a tragic epilogue to the attack.
Army Intelligence cordoned off the area of the explosion as ambulances struggled to reach the site due to the rugged terrain.
According to an Army statement, the suicide car bombing occurred at 7 p.m. in the Wadi Ata area.
“The Army leadership knows that today, more than any other time, it will be subjected to terrorism intended to prevent the Army from spreading the authority of the state and ending strife,” the statement said. “But it reaffirms as well that it will continue to fight and pursue the terrorists.”
The deadly attack came hours after Syrian regime forces, backed by Hezbollah, reportedly captured Flita and Ras al-Maara, two more villages in the Qalamoun region that borders northeast Lebanon. Two hundred refugee families fleeing the towns arrived in Arsal Saturday.
The Army had boosted measures along the porous border in the wake of the fall of the rebel-held town of Yabroud, in a bid to prevent infiltration by rebels fleeing the Qalamoun region. The measures were also part of a nationwide security plan to curb the rising number of terrorist attacks in the country.
The boosted security measures also came two days after the death of Samir al-Atrash, an alleged “terrorist” that the Army said was complicit in car bomb plots in Lebanon. Atrash was wounded in a shootout with soldiers in Arsal.
Radical Islamist groups have claimed responsibility for the spate of car bombings in the country.
The groups, which have cited Hezbollah’s role in Syria as a motive, have vowed to continue such attacks and not to spare the Army, accusing the military of cooperating with Hezbollah.
Suicide bombers have targeted Army checkpoints in Sidon and Hermel in the past.
Security sources told Al-Jadeed that the attack was intended as a diversion to allow two BMW X5 cars into Arsal amid the confusion following the bombing.
The TV station said it was unclear whether the car was carrying explosives or gunmen from towns near Yabroud.
The Syrian refugee and her child were killed at the Army checkpoint near Arsal Saturday night after the driver of the pickup truck they were riding in ignored the soldiers’ orders for him to stop, security sources told The Daily Star.
Soldiers opened fire on the vehicle, killing the woman and child and wounding the driver in the leg, before he was transferred to a local hospital.
The driver told doctors that they were fleeing Flita, and he panicked when soldiers flashed their lights at him, turning off his headlights and reversing the car, before the Army opened fire.
The woman was shot in the head and attempts to revive her failed. Her son also died after being shot in the ear and abdomen. Another child was severely wounded in his left leg.“There was a sadness in the hospital when they brought the boys,” one doctor said.
Condemnations poured in after the attack.
“A new crime has been added to the takfiri terrorists’ growing record,” Hezbollah said in a statement. “ Hezbollah denounces this crime, which targeted the Army, and considers such crimes an attack on all Lebanese and the nation as a whole.”
Prime Minister Tammam Salam stressed that “such acts will not affect the firm political decision to fight terrorism and all security violations.”
The Future Movement said the Army was paying the price of Lebanon’s involvement in the war in Syria, and called for unity and renewed support for the military.
“Arsal and its people will remain in solidarity with the Army,” residents said in a statement after a meeting of local officials. “We pledge to remain loyal to the nation and the military institution and to stand with the Lebanese Army and security services in one trench to fight terrorism and terrorists no matter their affiliation.”
The Army meanwhile defused Sunday a gas canister filled with explosives in the northern city of Tripoli, security sources told The Daily Star.
The canister, estimated to be rigged with around 15 kilograms of explosives, was found near an Army post in Tripoli’s Mitain Street, the sources said.
A military expert was able to defuse the canister after soldiers cordoned off the area.
The incident coincides with the implementation of a security plan aimed at restoring order in the city plagued by recurring clashes linked to the Syrian crisis. The plan calls for the Lebanese Army and security forces to prevent the use of arms, seize stockpiled weapons in the city and arrest individuals wanted in relation to kidnappings, car thefts and forgeries in the northern Bekaa Valley area.
The Army said it was continuing the search for those responsible.
Officials pledged to continue implementing the Tripoli security plan despite attacks against the Army.
Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi told the National News Agency the new security plan was an opportunity to get Tripoli out of the “cycle” of violence.
Defense Minister Samir Moqbel and Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk both said the Army would not be deterred from its efforts to secure Tripoli and the Bekaa Valley.
Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Basbous, the chief of the ISF, held a meeting in Tripoli with security officials to discuss the details of the plan. – With additional reporting by Elise Knutsen