Nusra Front threatens to kill kidnapped Lebanese soldier

Published September 17th, 2014 - 11:07 GMT

The Nusra Front threatened to kill one of the Lebanese soldiers it is holding Tuesday, an indication that Qatari-brokered negotiations to end the hostage crisis have reached an apparent deadlock.

Under the title of “Who will pay the price?” a statement published on a Nusra Front-affiliated Twitter page said that “[soldier] Mohammad Maarouf Hammieh might be the first to pay the price.”

The Nusra Front and ISIS are still holding at least 22 policemen and soldiers captive, after militants took hostage over 30 military and security personnel during last month’s clashes in the northeastern border town of Arsal.

So far, ISIS has beheaded two army soldiers, while the Nusra Front has yet to kill any of its hostages.

The Nusra Front is fed up with negotiations with the Lebanese government, the group said, stressing that prolonging talks might close the door for negotiations.

“Let everyone know that negotiations were not closed by us,” the Nusra Front tweeted. “We don’t have impossible demands.”

The militant group said that it realized that “the road to negotiations was closed” when Lebanese politicians said that “talks may go on for one month or two.”

The statement also cited what it called Hezbollah’s continued crackdown on Syrian refugees in Arsal and along the town’s borders as another reason behind their dissatisfaction with negotiations.

“Don’t blame us if we have had enough,” the statement said.

Commenting on the Nusra Front’s announcement, a source from the General Security neither confirmed nor denied that negotiations have failed. “We are not concerned by the statement the group has released,” the source told The Daily Star.

The Lebanese government has been negotiating with militants over the release of the abducted security personnel and has tasked General Security head Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim with the matter.

An envoy sent by Qatar had previously met with the militants and relayed their demands to the Lebanese government.

Nusra Front and ISIS are both demanding the release of Islamist inmates from Roumieh Prison.

Prime Minister Tammam Salam and a ministerial delegation held talks Sunday with Qatari officials in Doha over the release of the hostages.

The delegation returned to Beirut the same day, while Ibrahim was back Tuesday.

Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi said Tuesday that 28 Islamist suspects had been tried and acquitted recently, while decisions were made to release four other defendants, as part of the government’s bid to speed up the trial of Islamist detainees which could be part of a deal that would see the hostages released.

In an indirect response to MP Walid Jumblatt, Rifi refuted allegations that trials of Islamist detainees could be concluded in three days, saying “it is mere talking, because it is impossible not to respect legal deadlines” that require more time.

“I will not pretend to be able to close that file in days. This is totally incorrect. We will not turn our tribunals into martial courts, and the judges and judiciary should abide by the law,” Rifi said during a visit to the Higher Judicial Council during which he announced the kickoff of the “new judicial year.

Rifi stressed that speeding up the Islamists’ trials and dealing with the problems of prisons that suffer from overcrowding, among other things, were his top priorities, noting that the court had recently acquitted 28 suspects, including one in custody, and decided to release four defendants.

Asked to comment on reports that Islamist detainees might be swapped with security personnel held captive by extremist militants from ISIS and Nusra Front, Rifi said that in the absence of a president such a move could only be decided by the government unanimously.The head of Higher Judicial Council, Judge Jean Fahd, said the council had regrouped the cases of 430 Islamist suspects into 39 categories for the sake of accelerating the process, noting that two rulings were expected to be issued in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, militants on the outskirts of Arsal have released a Lebanese citizen abducted Saturday, a security source told The Daily Star Tuesday.

The source said Ahmad Hujeiri was part of a group operating in Arsal in collaboration with Lebanese Army Intelligence during the clashes with the militants last month. The militants accused him of cooperating with Hezbollah.

In parallel, Palestinian businessman Mohammad Khaled Ismail was also released, two days after his kidnapping for unknown reasons from in front of his residence in Baalbek. The National News Agency said Ismail’s release was the result of pressure from political parties.

Separately, the Lebanese army clashed with fighters from Nusra Front overnight, as the militants sought to cross into Lebanon after suffering heavy casualties in clashes with the Syrian army.

The state-run National News Agency said a number of the militants were killed and wounded in the fighting with Lebanese soldiers.

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