HERMEL, Lebanon: Arsal residents told The Daily Star Sunday that they believed assassinated terrorism suspect Omar Atrash was the victim of a scheme aiming to tarnish the reputation of the village, by depicting it as a hub for extremism. The residents said Atrash’s alleged role in planting explosives in Hezbollah strongholds and killing several soldiers on the outskirts of the village, in addition to killing four men in Labweh, was a gross exaggeration.
Local media reported that Atrash, who hailed from the Bekaa Valley town of Arsal, was involved in two car bomb attacks that rocked Bir al-Abed and Ruwaiss in the Beirut southern suburbs in July and August, respectively. Atrash is also suspected of planning two rocket attacks in May that wounded four people in the Beirut southern suburb of Shiyah.
Omar Atrash and Samer Hujeiri, were killed Friday after a rocket hit their vehicle somewhere in the narrow valley that separates the mountainous area of Arsal and the Syrian frontier.
Sameh Breidi was injured in the incident and admitted to a hospital.
Caretaker Defense Minister Fayez Ghosn said in July that Atrash was behind an attack in Arsal in May that killed three soldiers. Breidi was also suspected of involvement.
Earlier this month, Atrash appeared on Al-Jadeed TV, dismissing accusations that he was involved in the attacks in the southern suburbs. He said he was leading an armed group that supported the Syrian rebels in defending their people against the regime forces.
After his assassination, the Atrash family issued a statement accusing the TV station of providing the party that carried out the attack information about his whereabouts.
Hujeiri’s truck was hit by a rocket when it stopped to allow passengers to remove boulders blocking the road.
Hujeiri and Atrash were killed at once and their bodies charred after impact, while Breidi sustained injuries. Two other cars that were following Atrash’s pickup were not targeted.
“Maybe Atrash was killed to divert the attention of investigators and to prevent the security forces from uncovering the facts behind the incidents that Atrash stood accused of,” Future Movement coordinator in Arsal, Bakr Hujeiri, told The Daily Star.