BEIRUT: Lebanon's Hizbullah group remained the world most capable "terrorist group" in 2008, a new US State Department report has said. Hizbullah had reduced its military presence in Southern Lebanon since a 2006 resolution that ended hostilities with Israel came into effect, but the resistance group "remains the most technically-capable terrorist" organization in the world, said the annual country report on terrorism, released Thursday.
Domestic political intimidation continued throughout 2008, noted the report, citing several assassinations and attempted assassinations targeting anti-Syrian Lebanese politicians and journalists. The report detailed several acts of terrorist violence in Lebanon during 2008, including an attack on a US Embassy vehicle and the car bomb murders of Internal Security Forces intelligence chief Wissam Eid and Lebanese Democratic Party official Sheikh Saleh al-Aridi.
In spite of progress made by the Lebanese government, "there were concerns about its ability to combat terrorism," particularly in the country's 12 Palestinian refugee camps, the report stated. "A porous border with Syria, weak internal camp security by Palestinian authorities and Lebanese security authorities, and reticence to enter the camps all contributed to a concern that" a confrontation against an armed group in one of the camps was likely, it said, naming the Ain al-Hilweh camp outside Sidon as the likeliest venue for such a clash. It also highlighted the activities of the Islamist group Usbat al-Ansar, whose 100-300 fighters were based at Ain al-Hilweh, but noted its leaders had been reluctant to launch operations within Lebanon for fear of losing the camp as a "safe haven."
Lebanese border security also remained troublesome, the report said. Despite LAF deployments in south Lebanon after the 2006 war, the government "still does not exercise control over parts of the border in the Hizbullah-dominated Bekaa Valley, in addition to the wider problem of Hizbullah's military presence" elsewhere in the country. In its fight against global terrorism, the US initiated an "active" anti-terrorism assistance program with the LAF, providing equipment and training, noted the report. Lebanese officials meanwhile investigated 186 suspicious financial transactions on allegations of terrorism or aiding terrorist activities.
The report also labeled Iran and Syria as state sponsors of terrorism, saying the allies "continued to play destabilizing roles in the region" through political, financial and military support for such groups as Hizbullah, the Taliban and Hamas. Since the end of conflict with Israel, Iran facilitated Hizbullah's rearmament, provided $200 million in financial support, and trained over 3,000 members of the group on Iranian territory, it said.
Syria meanwhile "provided political and material support to Hizbullah and allowed Iran to use Syrian territory as a transit point for assistance" to the group, it said, citing the assassination of Hizbullah's operations commander Imad Mugniyeh in Damascus as proof of Syria's "ties to the world's most notorious terrorists."