Lebanese authorities on Saturday arrested a fugitive Islamic cleric wanted for his role in deadly clashes with the army as he tried to flee the country, security sources said.
"Lebanese authorities arrested Ahmed al-Assir this morning at the airport. He had changed his appearance and was trying to leave the country," a security source told Agence France Presse.
Assir had a number of plastic surgeries done and had planned to fly to Egypt and later to Qatar, the source added on condition of anonymity.
The Voice of Lebanon Radio (100.5) said that the fugitive was arrested after boarding the plane. Two other individuals were accompanying him and were carrying forged passports under the names Rami Abdul Rahman Taleb and Khaled Sidani.
Al-Assir, a firebrand anti-Hezbollah cleric, has been on the run since June 2013 after his armed supporters clashed with the Lebanese army in the southern port city of Sidon. The fighting killed 18 Lebanese soldiers and deepened sectarian tensions between Sunni and Shiite Muslims who support opposing sides in neighboring Syria's civil war.
The army seized his headquarters after 48 hours of clashes that killed 18 soldiers, but Assir was able to escape with several of his followers.
He continued to issue audio statements while on the run, and various rumors circulated as to where in Lebanon he was hiding.
In 2014, a military judge recommended prosecutors seek death sentences for Assir and 53 others, including singer-turned-fundamentalist Fadel Shaker.
He and his associates were accused of "having formed armed groups that attacked an institution of the state, the army, killed officers and soldiers, took explosive materials and light and heavy weapons and used them against the army."
Assir was a virtual political unknown until the outbreak of Syria's civil war.
He began making headlines after the conflict erupted by criticizing Lebanon's Hezbollah movement and its ally Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Although he was born to a Shiite Muslim mother, his discourse was highly sectarian and he often accused Lebanon's army of failing to protect Sunnis and being beholden to Hezbollah.
He encouraged his supporters to join Syria's mainly Sunni rebels and to rise up against Hezbollah.
Naharnet © 2021