Lebanon News

Some Arsal refugees may be al-Qaida: sources

BEIRUT: Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi raised concerns at a recent security meeting that some refugees fleeing into the country in Arsal may actually be al-Qaida members, sources close to Prime Minister Najib Mikati told The Daily Star.

The sources said Kahwagi’s comments at the Mikati-chaired Grand Serail meeting mimicked Defense Minister Fayez Ghosn’s recent comments to the media about “operations carried out at some illegal border crossings, especially in Arsal.”

“Weapons are being smuggled [there] and members of terrorist groups are entering to establish a base [in Lebanon] under the cover that they belong to the Syrian opposition,” Ghosn said.

Until recently, Syrian border crossings tended to occur in the Wadi Khaled district of Akkar, where refugees have been fleeing since the uprising began against the Bashar Assad’s government nine months ago. But in the past few months attention has been focused on Arsal in the Bekaa, where there have been allegations of weapons being smuggled through the mountains that mark the border in east Lebanon.

At the meeting, the sources said that Kahwagi confirmed that according to army information, some people who claim be members of the Syrian opposition and are smuggling weapons are in fact from al-Qaida. Kahwagi also said that when the army attempts to confront these people, groups in Lebanon object in defense of freedom.

The military needs political support to carry out its work, Kahwagi said, and cannot confront this problem alone.

The sources added that this issue has been raised in Cabinet, and the army received unanimous support there. The Cabinet assigned it to carry out its duties as it sees fit.

In a statement last week, Mikati said that the freedom to carry out political work must be limited by security concerns, and the sources said that this was a reference to the situation in Akkar. They added that Ghosn’s media statements, as well as his saying he will raise the issue in Wednesday’s Cabinet session, may be due to new developments that have obstructed the army’s actions.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 21, 2011, on page 2.




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