ISIS takes Lebanese captives in bid for prisoner exchange
Lebanese army soldiers drive to the entrance of the town of Arsal in the Bekaa valley. (AFP)
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The fate of at least 35 soldiers and policemen, who were held captive by Islamist gunmen in the northeastern border town of Arsal, remains unknown after contacts were lost with them.
According to As Safir newspaper published on Friday, armed men who retreated to Syria from the northeastern border town of Arsal after intensified clashes with the Lebanese army have taken hostage more than 35 soldiers and policemen in an attempt to exchange them for Islamist prisoners, who are held at Roumieh prison's Bloc B.
On Thursday, a delegation from the Muslim Scholars Committee tasked with mediating with jihadist gunmen in Arsal announced that it has lost contact with militants who have taken army and Internal Security Forces personnel captive.
But al-Nusra Front announced later that the soldiers and policemen who are still in captivity have a "special status that will be revealed later."
Security forces and the army have taken recently strong measures around the country's largest prison after reports emerged on an armed takfiri group planning to abduct civilians to swap them with Roumieh Prison inmates and another alleged plot by prisoners to escape from the facility by carrying out a truck bombing.
In July, self-proclaimed caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi vowed to release Muslim “hostages” from jails in Arab countries, including Lebanon, and promised to “liquidate their butchers.”
The shadowy jihadist said the “butchers” include judges, security forces and guards.
Al-Baghdadi heads the Islamic State (IS) group, or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which led a lighting offensive in Iraq that has overrun swathes of several provinces north and west of Baghdad.
The IS accuses the Lebanese state of being a U.S. and Israeli ally.
In June, the emir of the al-Qaida-linked al-Nusra Front in al-Qalamoun promised in an audio message to free Islamist prisoners in Roumieh “within days.”
- Nusra Front denies asking for prisoner exchange with Lebanese soldier captives
- Nusra releases list of names for prisoner swap in Arsal
- Militants pull out of Lebanese border town with captives
- Another Lebanese soldier beheaded by ISIS after an attempted escape
- Lebanese military, al-Nusra to exchange prisoners