Lebanese policeman allegedly killed by Nusra Front
At least four Lebanese soldiers have been killed by militant groups in recent months. (AFP/File)
Anger erupted in eastern Lebanon early Saturday after Al Qaeda-linked Syrian jihadist group al-Nusra Front said it had killed a captured Lebanese policeman to avenge the arrest of Islamic militants' wives and children.
Families of Lebanese soldiers held by militants blocked roads in Beirut and highways between major cities on Saturday, pressing the government to do more to free them.
The body of an unidentified man who had been shot dead was found on a road in the Bekaa Valley region bordering Syria in a suspected act of revenge for the policeman's murder, while gunmen abducted an unknown number of residents from the area, security sources said.
Angry residents were blocking roads and set fire to tires in the village of Bazzalieh, an AFP correspondent at the scene said.
The village is not far from the border town of Ersal, where an alleged former wife and young daughter of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the head of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group that has seized large parts of Syria and Iraq, were detained this week. Lebanese authorities also said they had detained the wife of a Nusra Front leader.
The women were apparently viewed by some Lebanese security elements as a possible bargaining chip with the militants to gain the release of the captive soldiers.
The flare-up came after al-Nusra posted a photograph that it said showed the execution of detained Lebanese policeman Ali al-Bazaal, in a statement on its Twitter account picked up by the SITE terrorism watchdog.
Bazaal was one of around 30 Lebanese soldiers and policemen abducted by jihadists in August during fighting in Arsal.
"If the sisters that were unjustly arrested are not released, then after a short period of time the death sentence will be executed against another prisoner we hold," al-Nusra said.
Lebanese security sources said they were trying to verify the claim.
The group did not identify the women and children it said Lebanon was holding, nor did it say how many were missing.
On Wednesday, Lebanon's interior minister said authorities there were holding the daughter and former wife of ISIS chief Baghdadi.
While both ISIS and al-Nusra are based in neighboring Syria, they have clashed with Lebanese border forces and with Hezbollah, which supports Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
One leading militant, Abu Ali al-Shishani, has pledged to attack Lebanese women and children and end talks to free the soldiers, after his wife was detained by authorities.
The threat, delivered in a video distributed on jihadist websites, was published on Friday hours before Nusra Front said it had killed Bazaal.
Officials say Shishani is a fighter in the Nusra Front, al-Qaeda's official Syrian wing. But in the video he praises Baghdadi, whose ISIS group splintered off from al-Qaeda. ISIS and Nusra have both clashed and worked closely with each other at different times.
Shishani said Shia Muslim women and children and families of Lebanese soldiers were now legitimate targets.
"My wife, Ola Mithqal al-Oqaily ... was taken two days ago from Tripoli, the city that is called the city of Islam and Muslims," Shishani said.
"If my wife is not released soon, do not dare to dream about the release of the soldiers without negotiations," he added.
"All your wives, children and men are legitimate targets now," he said, using the phrase "slaves of (late Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah) Khomeini" to refer to Shias.
Last month, a roadside bomb wounded three Lebanese soldiers near Ersal, where in August troops fought a fierce gun battle with militants who streamed across the border.
Fighting ended with a truce mediated by clerics, but the jihadists took with them the Lebanese army and police hostages.
At least four have since been executed and Qatari-led efforts to free the rest have so far failed.