TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi inspected troops in north Lebanon Thursday, three days after the military crushed militants inspired by ISIS and the Nusra Front and took full control of the embattled city of Tripoli.
The military, meanwhile, pushed ahead with a widespread manhunt for Islamist militants who fled after fighting soldiers over the weekend, rounding up more than 70 terror suspects in the north and the Western Bekaa region.
During his inspection tour of troops deployed in Tripoli and its surroundings and the northern district of Akkar, Kahwagi was briefed by senior officers on the military measures taken to consolidate security and stability in the city and in the north in general, the National News Agency reported.
“No one should be afraid. We have all the intention to preserve the homeland. I am not worried about the future because of your presence,” Kahwagi said, addressing troops.
Kahwagi also met with military unit commanders and soldiers and offered his condolences on the deaths of their comrades during the four-day pitched battles with Islamist militants that left 42 people dead and some 150 wounded, in the worst spillover of the war in Syria into Lebanon. Twenty-three gunmen, 11 soldiers and eight civilians died in the clashes.
Kahwagi praised the troops’ competence and efforts and provided them with the necessary instructions for the next stage of their operations, the national news agency said.
The Army chief’s tour came a day after he declared there would be no truce or compromise with terrorists, and vowed to hunt down Islamist militants who attacked the Army.
The tour came as the Army announced it had arrested a total of 71 terror suspects Wednesday in north Lebanon, the Bekaa province of Rashaya and the northeastern border area of Wadi Hmeid, on the outskirts of Arsal.
They were suspected of links to terrorist groups and involvement in gunbattles against Lebanese troops, according to an Army statement.
The Army said assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, hand grenades, military gear, cameras and communication devices had been seized during the raids.
Among the arrests was a Lebanese man identified as Abdullah Mahmoud Hujeiri, who failed to heed orders to stop at a military checkpoint in Wadi Hmeid. He admitted to having smuggled weapons and food supplies to “terrorists” on the outskirts near the northeastern border, an Army statement said.
According to one statement, three more gunmen handed themselves in to the Lebanese Army late Wednesday, bringing the total number of those who have surrendered to six.
The national news agency said a Syrian man identified as Shadi K., one of the commanders of an armed group, had been detained.
Some 20 individuals were arrested in north and south Lebanon earlier Wednesday, including eight Syrians detained during raids on Syrian refugee sites in Minyeh on suspicion of having links to armed groups.
The most recent arrests push to nearly 300 the number of suspected militants captured since the outbreak of the Tripoli fighting last Friday.
Meanwhile, Lebanon’s military prosecutor Thursday charged an alleged ISIS commander along with 17 other people with attacking Army soldiers and attempting to establish an Islamic emirate in north Lebanon.
Judge Saqr Saqr issued the charges against Ahmad Salim Mikati, who has links to ISIS, as well as two detained suspects and 15 fugitives, the National News Agency reported. The two suspects in custody were identified as Fayez Othman and Ahmad al-Ahmad.
Mikati and the others are accused of forming an armed group with the aim of carrying out terrorist acts.
They are also accused of recruiting people for ISIS and training them on using arms and preparing explosives, as well as “planning to invade the villages of Asoun, Bakhoun, Bqaa Sifrin and Seer Dinnieh to establish an Islamic emirate.”
The group of suspects are also accused of taking part in operations against the Army, inciting people to kill soldiers and stirring up sectarian strife. If found guilty, Mikati and the others could face the death penalty.