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Pattern of stolen cars prompts terrorism investigation in Lebanon
Palestinians drive a damaged car after clashes at the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh near Sidon, Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2012. (The Daily Star/Mohammed Zaatari)
Palestinians drive a damaged car after clashes at the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh near Sidon, Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2012. (The Daily Star/Mohammed Zaatari)
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SIDON, Lebanon: Car theft is not uncommon in Lebanon. But when someone tried to smuggle a stolen car into the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh, security services feared something was brewing – possibly a terror attack.

Their concerns came in the wake of a failed attempt early Tuesday to smuggle a stolen car into the Ain el-Hilweh refugee camp on the outskirts of the southern port city of Sidon.

Security sources told The Daily Star that a Lebanese Army checkpoint at the camp’s entrance seized the Honda CR-V at dawn Tuesday as Ahmad A., a Palestinian national, tried to smuggle it into the camp.

They said the car belonged to a member of judicial police. It was stolen outside his house in Rmaileh, near Ain al-Hilweh, late Monday evening. The car was returned to its owner.

On the same night, burglers stole the same type of car outside St. Charbel School in Rmaileh. The car belonged to a local teacher identified as Afifeh Shaaya.

The car thefts coincided with a similar attempted robbery in Abra, a town east of Sidon, at dawn Monday when residents reported waking up to the sound of alarms of their cars.

The sources said the cars that were intended to be stolen were all Honda CR-Vs.

Authorities have seized several stolen vehicles, particularly over the last three months – the peak of the Syria crisis – loaded with assault rifles, ammunition and other weaponry. Many of the stolen cars have been hidden in Ain al-Hilweh, Lebanon’s largest refugee camp.

“We fear that the stolen vehicles could be used in terror attacks or crime,” one security source in Sidon said.

“This is why the investigation is shrouded in secrecy,” added the source, who spoke to The Daily Star on condition of anonymity.

The source also raised the possibility that the cars were being stolen to be cut up and sold in parts, given that the Honda CR-V parts are expensive.

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