FNAYDEQ, Lebanon: DNA test results positively identified the body of a captured soldier beheaded by ISIS as Ali al-Sayyed, an Army statement confirmed Tuesday, as the judiciary responded to criticism over the handling of the trial of Islamist detainees.“The body turned out to belong to first Sergeant Ali al-Sayyed,” the statement said, adding that the funeral date would be set later. Sayyed’s body was handed to the Muslim Scholars Committee by ISIS Monday.
Meanwhile, fears that the Al-Qaeda linked splinter group would behead another captive soldier led to demonstrations across Lebanon staged by the families of soldiers still being held.
The Judicial Council responded to accusations that the trials of Islamist detainees held in Roumieh prison have been stalled, arguing in a statement that they had picked up pace last year. Most of the Islamist detainees were arrested over their involvement in the Nahr al-Bared clashes of summer 2007 between the Lebanese Army and the Fatah al-Islam militant group.
It said that by July 2013, 39 different files related to the case were categorized and in September of that year trials began, with 22 verdicts issued so far.
While five verdicts were issued per year before 2013, the statement said that number rose to 17 per year in 2013 and 2014.
The government plans to accelerate the trials of the 93 Islamist detainees in Roumieh prison in a bid to secure the release of at least 23 soldiers and policemen held hostage by ISIS and the Nusra Front on the outskirts of Arsal.
Fears that ISIS would behead another captive soldier, Ali Hajj Hasan, spread after an affiliated Twitter account offered the government an ultimatum.
“I think the Lebanese state has abandoned one of the soldiers, the Islamic State [ISIS] is sharpening its sword to slaughter him,” tweeted Abou Misaab Hafid al-Baghdadi, the same account which posted a picture of Sayyed’s alleged beheading last week. “Are you going to negotiate or not?”
In response relatives of Hajj Hasan blocked the southern entrance to Baalbek and the international highway with burning tires, and obstructed the road leading to the villages of Shaath and Harbta, according to the National News Agency. During the protest, gunmen reportedly gathered between the villages of Shaath and Maqneh demanding that Hajj Hasan be freed.
The family of soldier Mohammad Hussein Youssef, who hails from the Mdoukha village in Rashaya, blocked the road linking Khirbet Rouha to Rashaya in protest. In attendance were preachers, mayors, mukhtars and civil society groups who gathered to urge the government and the Muslim Scholars Committee to act.
In the northern town of Qalamoun, relatives of captured soldier Ibrahim Moghit continued with their protest along the road leading to Beirut for a fourth day, while residents of Fnaydeq and other Akkar villages took to the streets to express their anger over Sayyed’s beheading.
Prominent figures in Fnaydeq, from where Sayyed hailed, issued a statement calling on residents to refrain from retaliatory acts against Syrian refugees.
Sheikh Malek Jadaideh, head of the Muslim Scholars Committee, said he would do his utmost to free the captured troops and policemen. “We will continue our efforts to reach a happy ending, God willing.
“What is important now is their release, and we will not spare any efforts to win the freedom of our sons, without discrimination,” he said, after receiving the family of captured soldier George Khoury.
Prime Minister Tammam Salam also received Akkar Mufti Sheikh Zaid Mohammad Bakkar Zakaria to discuss the issue. “We hope things stay calm,” the mufti told reporters after the meeting. The government is set to convene Thursday to discuss the case of the captives.
The Army clashed overnight with 30 gunmen from Syria attempting to infiltrate the border town of Al-Qaa from the outskirts of Wadi Rafeq, security sources said. The brief clash began around 10 p.m. and lasted less than an hour around the town’s edge.
Sources said the Army opened artillery fire toward the militants, forcing them to retreat.
“We were surprised because normally they [the militants] don’t come to our village,” Al-Qaa mayor Milad Rizk told The Daily Star. “The clash was near residential areas, and could have forced people to leave, which is something we don’t want.”
Meanwhile, a string of arrests were made and warrants issued across Lebanon in connection to the militants in Arsal. Arrest warrants were issued for six Syrians and one Lebanese man after Military Investigative Judge Imad al-Zein interrogated the seven over their suspected affiliation with ISIS commander Imad Jomaa. The suspects were detained during the five-day Arsal clashes between the Army and militants after Jomaa’s arrest in the town last month.
Arrests were made in Nabatieh of two Syrians identified as Amer and Mustafa Sahu, who were found with ISIS banners and a poster they got from a Palestinian refugee camp in south Lebanon.
The Army along with a military intelligence unit raided apartments in a building in the Christian village of Qrayyeh in Sidon, checking the identification cards of Syrians and searching their homes.
The raid came in line with a plan to crack down on areas where Syrian workers and refugees reside across the country, to hunt for suspects linked to the clashes in Arsal.
Later Tuesday an Army patrol chased arms smuggleres in the area of Smouqa in Rashaya. They exchanged fire and after the smugglers managed to flee the Army confiscated ammunition left behind.
Also, 17 Syrians in east Lebanon escaped from a garage in the village of Shmustar they were being held in by the relatives of captured soldiers, a security source said. The group was able to break the door of the garage and escape. Media reports said the families held the Syrians to exchange them for the captured soldiers. – Additional reporting by Mohammed Zaatari