BEIRUT

Lubnan

Lebanese sheikh charged over spate of attacks

This undated file picture shows Sheikh Omar Atrash. (The Daily Star/HO)

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s military prosecutor Thursday charged Sheikh Omar Atrash over his alleged involvement in several car bombings as well as attacks targeting the Lebanese Army, Hezbollah and Israel.

Hours before Judge Saqr Saqr charged Atrash, the military disclosed some of what the Sunni preacher confessed to during interrogation, including that he had ties to Al-Qaeda-linked groups and had transported suicide bombers into Lebanon.

Saqr accused Atrash and 12 other wanted fugitives of belonging to Al-Qaeda and the Abdullah Azzam Brigades. The suspects are Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians.

Atrash, 24, and the unidentified suspects are charged with recruiting people to join armed terrorist groups, detonating bombs and explosive-rigged vehicles, and buying weapons and rockets from Syria and transporting them into Lebanon.

The 13 are also accused of placing the explosives-rigged vehicles in various areas as part of a number of attacks, including the Jan. 2 and the Jan. 21 car bombings in Beirut’s southern suburb of Haret Hreik, where Hezbollah enjoys broad support.

The Jan. 2 attack was the work of a suicide bomber.

The suspects are charged with being responsible for the bomb-rigged vehicle discovered last October in Maamoura, another largely pro- Hezbollah neighborhood in Beirut’s suburbs. That vehicle was dismantled by the military before it could do any damage.

Saqr accused them of being behind the attacks on two separate Army checkpoints in the coastal city of Sidon last year as well as planting bombs that targeted Hezbollah in the Bekaa Valley, east Lebanon.

Saqr also charged them with firing rockets from Lebanon into Israel.

Atrash’s file was referred to Military Investigative Judge Abu Ghayda.

Military personnel apprehended Atrash on Jan. 22 on suspicion of having links to terrorists inside Syria and forming a terrorist cell comprised of Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians.

His detention has enraged some Muslim religious scholars, who have accused the military of torturing the sheikh and questioning him without the presence of a lawyer.

According to the Lebanese Army, during interrogation Atrash said a Syrian identified as Abu Khaled gave him explosives-rigged vehicles that he then personally transported to Beirut.

The Army reported that Atrash said he then handed the vehicles over to Naeem Abbas, a man the Army described as a “terrorist.”

The handover was apparently done in coordination with another man identified as Omar Saleh.

The Muslim preacher also reportedly said he had transported explosives belts, hand grenades and ammunition inside Lebanon.

The sheikh, from the northeastern town of Arsal, apparently said he took an explosive-rigged Grand Cherokee along with two suicide bombers equipped with explosive belts to Abbas.

The Grand Cherokee is believed to have been used later in a car bombing and the two suicide bombers are alleged to have carried out attacks against separate military checkpoints in the coastal southern city of Sidon.

In December, the military said twin suicide attacks against separate military posts in Sidon killed one officer and wounded another soldier.

Atrash, accompanied by a man identified as Abu Farouq, also reportedly said he had transported another vehicle that was later used in an attack.

In its statement, the military said Atrash also revealed he had transported suicide bombers of various Arab nationalities into Syria in order to hand them over to hard-line rebel group the Nusra Front.

Atrash reportedly disclosed that he had personally brought four rockets into Lebanon from Syria that were launched into Israel on Aug. 22, 2013. The Army said the sheikh confessed that he had also brought in another four rockets from Syria days before his arrest.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 31, 2014, on page 2.

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Summary

Lebanon's military prosecutor Thursday charged Sheikh Omar Atrash over his alleged involvement in several car bombings as well as attacks targeting the Lebanese Army, Hezbollah and Israel.

The Jan. 2 attack was the work of a suicide bomber.

The Army reported that Atrash said he then handed the vehicles over to Naeem Abbas, a man the Army described as a "terrorist".

Atrash, accompanied by a man identified as Abu Farouq, also reportedly said he had transported another vehicle that was later used in an attack.

Atrash reportedly disclosed that he had personally brought four rockets into Lebanon from Syria that were launched into Israel on Aug. 22, 2013 .


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