Lebanon: Assir's ghost hangs over the scene of the Tayouneh bombing

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Lebanese security forces cordon off the site of a car bomb at the army checkpoint in the Tayouneh area of Beirut. (Photo: Marwan Bou Haidar)

By: Radwan Mortada

Published Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Salafi cleric Ahmed al-Assir’s fingerprints have reappeared and the link between the Abdullah Azzam Brigades and the fugitive sheikh's group grows stronger day after day. Awaiting to determine the identity of the suicide bomber, investigators were able to identify the route used by the car in the bombing, its owner's identity, and its possible targets.

Only a few hours after Monday’s suicide attack, Abdullah Azzam Brigades spokesman Sheikh Sirajuddin Zureiqat spoke to the media through an audio recording shared on Twitter. It is noteworthy that the car bombing in Chiyah coincided with the Abra events, which broke out on June 23 of last year.

This reinforces speculations that Assir was behind the operation or at least linked to its perpetrators. It is a reminder of the links uncovered by the investigation of previous bombings adopted by the Abdullah Azzam Brigades between them and Assir, in addition to the sheikh’s links to some suicide bombers. Zureiqat also used phrases preferred by Assir, such as referring to Hezbollah as "Iran's party.” This steers the accusations in the direction of the al-Qaeda subsidiary and Assir's groups equally and jointly.

Zureiqat, who, according to jihadi sources, is "in al-Zabadani mountainside," reiterated the substance of his previous speeches in his latest statement, titled, "And in retribution you have life." He called on "Sunnis to kill the soldiers and leaders of the Iranian party" and maintained that "[Hezbollah] is implicated in killing Sunni Muslims in most Syrian districts." He added that "the party installs checkpoints in Lebanon and arrests people based on suspicion."

"You, the Iranian party occupying Lebanon, the forces of Iran, will suffer our continuous blows as long as you remain in Syria," he warned Hezbollah. "We will continue to fight you as long as our detainees remain in prison." Zureiqat addressed Lebanese soldiers who are “people of the Sunnah,” and asked them to leave the army. "If you continue your work, you will lose your religion, community, and sect," he said. Moving to Iraq, he hinted that its winds will reach Lebanon, saying that "the revolution of the clans in Iraq is not very far off."

As for the investigation, military investigators have still been unable to identify the suicide bomber that struck Chiyah on Monday. However, surveillance cameras in some of the roads leading to the location helped plot the route taken by the car bomb.

Security sources informed Al-Akhbar that the car began its journey from a parking lot close to al-Rabie project in Ard Jalloul. There, to avoid Lebanese army checkpoints, it headed to the Qasqas-Barbir junction before taking a right towards the Tayouneh roundabout. Then it went north, with Horsh Beirut to its right, heading towards Chiyah.

The information indicated that the suicide bomber took the same route several times. He drove several meters against the direction of traffic outside Abu Assaf Cafe, stopping and turning off the engine for an unknown reason. The information, camera footage and witness testimonies confirm that he waited around seven minutes before setting off the explosion. He spoke to several people, claiming his car could not move because he broke the ignition key.

Investigators are considering two assumptions related to the bomber's abrupt stop. The first is that he waited for more people to gather around the car from the crowd watching the World Cup match in the cafe. Due to the large number of cars parked outside the cafe, investigators believe it was likely that he was looking for a spot to park or for people to gather around his car since he had stopped in the middle of the road, blocking traffic. It is most likely that he triggered the explosion prematurely after an officer drew his weapon on the bomber. The second assumption relates to the likelihood that he was confused, due to being unfamiliar with the area or having carried out weak reconnaissance missions prior to the operation.

The bomb's weight has been estimated at between 30 and 40 kilograms of explosives. However, the information indicated that around half of it did not go off, due to the rudimentary preparation of the car bomb.

The car had been sold by Nimr Chamoun to Zuheir Abdullah Soueid and Ali Hassan Dirani (a Syrian citizen) on May 9, 2014. The seller maintained that he received $3,800 and was expecting an additional $500, pending registration. However, the car and the buyer disappeared, although there is no record of complaint against the theft of a car with similar specifications.

In this context, the information maintains that investigations are underway to determine the identity of the buyer, whether he used fake papers, and if he was directly linked to the perpetrators or just a middleman.

In the same context, the Directorate of Guidance at the Army Command issued a statement declaring that "a suicide bomber, driving a white Mercedes 300, with license plates 324784J blew himself up at 10:40 pm the night before yesterday's near an army checkpoint at the Tayouneh roundabout."

In addition to the abounding rumors, whether concerning a warrant issued against al-Taqwa mosque imam Sheikh Salem al-Rafei or news about diffusing several car bombs, available information points to a raid by the army on an apartment in Zahrieh. Several individuals were arrested from a group that was under surveillance. According the same information, six people – three employees and three university students – were detained under suspicion of links to al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Follow Radwan Mortada on Twitter: @radwanmortada

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