Two Options for Lebanon: Deterrence or Collapse

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Following the Roueiss bombing, the army command found it necessary to take practical public measures, to push all parties concerned to assume their responsibilities. (Photo: Haitham Moussawi)

By: Ibrahim al-Amin

Published Saturday, August 17, 2013

Al-Akhbar has learned details of the radical jihadis’ plans to target the Resistance and its supporters. The August 15 Roueiss bombing was not a suicide attack and the perpetrators behind the explosion have been identified.

Ever since Hezbollah announced it was overtly engaged in the battle alongside the Syrian army against takfiri, or radical jihadi, groups, non-civilian agencies in the Resistance have been running estimates of the possible backlash against the Resistance and its supporters. Hezbollah had expected that armed Syrian opposition groups would fire rockets from border regions towards Baalbeck and Hermel, and understood that it needed to take measures to thwart such attacks.

Moreover, the Resistance, and with it official Lebanese agencies, understood that extremist Syrian and other non-Lebanese groups would also carry out attacks deep inside Lebanon, and not just in the Bekaa. Lebanese army intelligence even prepared “warning lists” based on the intel it gathered from direct sources, or as a result of cooperation with foreign security agencies on the activity of extremist groups linked to al-Qaeda.

But one problem was that the army has been coming under fire from some in the March 14 camp, most notably the Future Movement, which claimed that no such groups are present in Lebanon. Nevertheless, the army went through with its preemptive measures, and was directly attacked by these extremist groups at times. The army, however, failed to reach their hideouts in the town of Ersal.

As time passed, it became clear that these groups decided to develop a plan of action to benefit from a set of favorable circumstances, including the security chaos in the country and the lack of coordination between official security agencies. These groups have come to enjoy cover from some in the political class and the media – which sometimes even justify their crimes, for example, by blaming Hezbollah for attacks that occur in its strongholds. In addition, any attempt by the authorities to go into Ersal or some Palestinian camps would soon be met with extreme censure by the same politicians and media outlets, not to mention the unprecedented campaign against the Lebanese army in the wake of the Abra incidents east of Saida.

The first of such attacks in Beirut took place when Katyusha rockets were fired on the southern suburbs. This happened again, with rockets fired from an area in the Kesserwan district, after measures were taken in Aramoun and Bchamoun and the hills overlooking the Beirut airport and Dahiyeh. But lax security allowed the perpetrators to return to these areas, carrying out reconnaissance and transferring weapons between Bekaa, Beirut, Saida, and Palestinian refugee camps, in preparation for new terrorist attacks.

After the Bir al-Abed bombing on July 9, Lebanese army intelligence stepped up its counterterrorism activities. Intelligence was shared and cross-checked on a daily basis with the Resistance’s in-house security services. By contrast, the Information Branch of the Internal Security Forces remained “idle,” and did not make any serious efforts, despite being asked to assist by both army intelligence and Hezbollah.

Within three weeks, comprehensive information on the perpetrators was gathered thanks to highly professional investigation work, but also because of mistakes made by the perpetrators. The preliminary findings made it possible to identify and apprehend a number of suspects, uncovering further details in the process, while other suspects went into hiding, most probably in and around the town of Ersal, according to investigations and information corroborated by Internal Security.

Following the Roueiss bombing, the army command found it necessary to take practical public measures, to push all parties concerned to assume their responsibilities. On Friday, Defense Minister Fayez Ghosn issued a statement containing a summary of the information obtained and verified by army intelligence regarding the circumstances of the terror attacks.

The “tough” decision to share this information with the public comes against the backdrop of the long-standing campaign against the army by March 14, which intensified following the clashes in Abra, and also following reports that March 14 – and the Future Movement in particular – intended to impede any raids or security operations in Majdal Anjar and Ersal.

According to sources in the investigation, the following information has been obtained:

The group that fired rockets on the southern suburbs consists of Palestinians, including Ahmad Taha, who is currently hiding in Ersal. Taha’s handler is a leader in a known Palestinian Islamic group. The rockets were purchased from a Palestinian refugee camp in Beirut.

The group that planned and carried out the bombings along the Chtaura-Masnaa and Chtaura-Zahleh roads is based in Majdal Anjar. The group has been monitoring all roads that directly lead to Syria or Baalbeck, and kept tabs on the vehicles it believes were being used to move Hezbollah cadres or fighters to Syria along these roads. A list of suspects and their details is now in the possession of the army intelligence directorate. The directorate tried to arrest some of them several times, but was faced with stiff resistance indicating that the suspects are in fact “hunkered down” in Majdal Anjar.

The group tasked with preparing and detonating car bombs in Dahiyeh and the explosive devices along the Hermel road is operating out of Ersal. Lebanese army intelligence has obtained detailed information on the group’s members, including several who were named in the defense minister’s statement yesterday. One of the most prominent of these suspects is H. al-Houjeiri, who personally placed the explosive in Bir al-Abed on July 9.

H. Houjeiri’s group, which was tasked with execution, went to Beirut on July 8 carrying large quantities of explosives and detonators. The group was told to steal a car from an area near Dahiyeh and rig it with explosives. On the evening of July 8, two armed men carjacked a Kia parked near the road in Khaldah, after forcing its passengers (a Sunni man and a Shia woman) to get out at gunpoint.

The armed men then carried bags containing explosives to the car, before driving it toward Dahiyeh. The woman who owned the car reported the car stolen at a police station nearby, providing descriptions of the men and the other car they were driving. But there was little time to act. As planned, H. Houjeiri took the Kia to Dahiyeh via the Airport Road after it was rigged to explode, and left it at the parking lot in Bir al-Abed. Shortly after, the car was remotely detonated.

Members of the same group stole a BMW and rigged it with a large quantity of explosives. One member of the group then drove the car to Roueiss on Thursday, and parked it near a barbershop there. The car exploded 15 minutes after he left the area, according to the investigations.

The preliminary findings of the investigations indicate that the same group is behind both explosions in Dahiyeh, despite the attempt at deception by having different groups claim responsibility.

Investigations have also revealed that oversight of the entire operation has been entrusted to individuals from Ersal. These suspects are not affiliated with any Islamic group, but report to three individuals – a Syrian, Palestinian, and a Saudi – who are in charge of financing, planning, and choosing targets for operations. The trio is reportedly affiliated to a group operated by the security services of a major Gulf state.

Ibrahim al-Amin is editor-in-chief of Al-Akhbar.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


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