Growing fears in Lebanon over potential Ramadan terrorist attacks
Fears grew Monday that terrorist attacks could escalate during the holy month of Ramadan, as investigation with detainees revealed further details on plots to attack the country.
Speaking to The Daily Star, Western diplomatic sources expressed their worry that this Ramadan, which began over the weekend, could be “the bloodiest” if extremist groups were able to carry out the bombings they were planning, particularly as they are now believed to be recruiting women as would-be suicide bombers to target crowded areas.
The sources said many Islamists believe that “jihad” and sacrificing one’s self during the holy month is highly rewarded by God.
An army source described reports of further violence during Ramadan as rumors, but acknowledged that security in Lebanon was not at its best: “All this is mere talk. The security situation is not excellent, but it is also not bad. We are still much better than countries in the region.”
Other sources said Lebanese security agencies had two weeks ago received a list from U.S. intelligence services with the names of fundamentalist individuals from Saudi Arabia, Chechnya, Syria, France and Egypt who have reportedly entered Lebanon both via illegal routes from Syria and through Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International Airport.
The same sources said the 33 individuals, who carry forged IDs, are now in a number of Akkar villages, the central and western Bekaa Valley, Beirut and in the Palestinian refugee camps of Ain al-Hilweh, Shatila, burj al-Barajneh and Beddawi.
These terrorists, who are not believed to belong to one specific group, are said to be planning to assassinate Shiite, Sunni and Christian religious figures with the aim of sparking strife.
After enjoying relative calm for around three months, Lebanon has seen a new wave of bombings in late June. In response, Lebanese security services have arrested a number of terror suspects and would-be suicide bombers.
A judicial source told The Daily Star that a Frenchman and two Saudi nationals – one of whom blew up himself to evade arrest during a raid on the Duroy Hotel in Beirut last week – were recruited and trained in Istanbul by a radical Jordanian.
The source said the trainer supplied the recruits with money before sending them to Lebanon with instructions about who to meet upon arrival. Once in Lebanon, someone would take charge of the new arrivals, provide them with explosives and give them instructions, according to the source.
The source added that the investigation had revealed a link between a French suspect, originally from the Comoros Islands, who was arrested in a June 20 raid on the Napoleon Hotel in Hamra and the second Saudi bomber who was captured alive at the Duroy Hotel.
The source said Military Prosecutor Saqr Saqr would in the coming hours refer the Saudi detainee to Lebanese Army Intelligence for further investigation.
“They [radicals] are seeking to turn Lebanon into fertile ground for Daesh,” said the source in reference to militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). “They want Lebanon to become a mini-Iraq.”
Also Monday, Syria’s state TV reported that three rigged cars – two with Lebanese license plates – were found in Wadi al-Hussayn in the mountainous area of Qalamoun near the Syrian border with Lebanon.
Qalamoun – which was under the control of Syrian rebels until this spring – was believed to be the main source of cars that were being laden with explosives and then sent back into Lebanon to target areas associated with Hezbollah for months late last year and early this year. But despite the gloomy picture, Defense Minister Samir Moqbel reiterated after visiting Maronite PatriarchBeshara Rai that Lebanon’s security “is for sure under control.”
Separately, the Saudi Embassy in Beirut said Monday that Riyadh stands at the forefront of those facing the global threat of terrorism, while dismissing recent criticism of the kingdom as “an affront to truth.”
“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia suffers first and foremost from terrorism and has contributed to the field of counter-terrorism,” the embassy’s statement said.
The statement was seen as a reaction to comments by Lebanese journalist Ghassan Jawad of slabnews.com during an appearance on OTV’s “Think Twice” over the weekend, in which he called for visa restrictions on Arab Gulf tourists and accused them of having a “desert” and “Bedouin” mentality.
In another security development, two men were killed and at least four others wounded in a shootout on the outskirts of Shatila, a Palestinian refugee camp in Beirut, police sources told The Daily Star. The sources said that the clashes were related to drug trafficking issues.
By Youssef Diab, Antoine Ghattas Saab