Sheikh Ahmed al-Asir, whose fate became uncertain after the army stormed his headquarters on June 24, resurfaced Thursday in an alleged audio message in which he described the deadly Sidon clashes as a plot aimed at ending his presence.
“You will know and everyone must know the normal context of the incident, or rather the massacre, that happened, which is not an isolated incident, as we had raised the voice several times over the attacks of the Party of Satan (Hizbullah), the criminal AMAL Movement and the shabiha (thugs) of the so-called Lebanese army, which is in the service of Hizbullah, AMAL Movement, the criminal Syrian regime and the Iranian regime,” Asir says in the audio recording.
“These attacks have not only targeted us, but have also targeted the entire Sunni sect, ever since Syria started its hegemony over Lebanon … such as jailing our young men, torturing them, stepping on their beards and necks and interrogating them in a provocative sectarian manner, and lately one of the soldiers pushed another soldier against one of our sisters who wears niqab and he fell over her,” Asir added.
He said he was fully aware that “a confrontation was being plotted” against his group because Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan “Nasrallah knew that he would lose a direct confrontation against us after he lost in (Syria's) Qusayr.”
“The scenario was to pit us in a confrontation with the army. That's why we raised our voices high throughout seven months to say that the 'apartments of strife' tried to assassinate my son amid daily provocations and several mediations that prevented us from making any move to close the apartments, and we complied with every initiative and remained calm,” Asir claimed.
He accused the army of deploying in the Abra region in order to “protect the apartments” that he had claimed were being used by Hizbullah to stockpile weapons and monitor his movements.
Asir also accused the army of “insulting us and harassing us and our women.”
“We repeated several times that we want coexistence and to live in peace with everyone, but I asked them to put out the fire and vacate the apartments and my demand was not heeded,” he said.
Asir noted that several weeks before the deadly “incident” at an army checkpoint in Abra, his group detected unusual movements on the Mar Elias Hill, the Sharhabil Hill and in Haret Saida “and several other locations.”
“We asked the (Internal Security Forces') Intelligence Bureau to probe the issue, but no one responded,” the fugitive cleric added.
He claimed that gunmen loyal to Hizbullah “expelled residents from the buildings and heavily stockpiled weapons.”
“We informed the relevant authorities that a major battle was being prepare and no one was able to do anything,” Asir added.
“The incident happened when the army erected a checkpoint outside our mosque and its sole mission was to harass us and the worshipers. They used to remove the checkpoint after the end of the prayer at the mosque and erect it again during prayer time to harass our youths,” he said, accusing troops of “beating up a bearded taxi driver and a passenger over the possession of a baton.”
Explaining the incident that sparked the fierce deadly clashes, Asir said: “I asked my office manager Sheikh Ahmed Hariri to go to the checkpoint and ask them to remove it because we couldn't tolerate what's happening anymore, so Sheikh Ahmed and one of the brothers, who were of course armed, went there and spoke with the officer, who started raising his voice gradually before bullets rained down on us.”
“I saw the incident through the surveillance camera and I dare them to broadcast the video that they confiscated from Bank Audi to expose all the liars who condemned the attack on the army,” said Asir.
He added that troops opened fire, “which prompted our men to retreat and defend themselves, and at that moment heavy gunshots rained down on everyone, on the army and on our men, most probably from an apartment belonging to Hizbullah in the building of KFC.”
“One of our men was killed and several others were wounded and the shelling and bullets did not stop when the men retreated to the mosque,” Asir said.
“Is it logical that an incident happened at a checkpoint while bullets and shells were ready to be fired from Haret Saida and Sharhabil over an incident at a checkpoint? Even if an officer and a soldier were killed?” he wondered.
He claimed that it was a “premeditated decision” because “if we wanted to open fire on the army, Sheikh Ahmed would not have gone to the barracks and the issue is a big lie and the decision was taken to end Ahmed al-Asir amid the consent of some local figures and a lot of Lebanese parties from the March 14 and March 8 camps.”
Inside Asir's headquarters complex, which includes a mosque, several office buildings and apartment blocks, explosives and weapons, – including rocket launchers, snipers and machineguns -- were found.
"It looks more like a security fortress than a mosque," caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel told reporters in the wake of the clashes, adding that several Asir supporters detained by security forces were non-Lebanese.
According to an army statement, the clashes erupted after Asir supporters attacked a checkpoint in “cold blood” and "for no reason."
Eighteen soldiers were martyred and 20 others were wounded in the attack and in the fierce clashes that ensued. Twenty of Asir's gunmen were also killed.
"The interior minister sent us a message in an indirect manner in which he warned that 'Ahmed al-Asir's head is wanted' and 'Ahmed al-Asir must die'," the cleric added in the recording.
Asir called on the Sunni community to “break the barrier of fear and fear only God,” urging them to protest “in a peaceful and civilized manner” after Friday prayers “in coordination with the Muslim clerics.”
“I don't want to hear that there is frustration. God will show the right and we will return to raise the flag of right, whether they like it or not,” Asir pledged.
He noted that the audio message, whose authenticity could not be independently verified, was recorded on Thursday.