Atrash Investigation: Two Saudi Suicide Bombers on the Loose

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People gather at the scene of a car bomb explosion which went off in front of the main government administration building in Hermel, a stronghold of Lebanon's Hezbollah near the border with Syria, on January 16, 2014. (Photo: AFP - STR).

Published Friday, January 31, 2014

A primary round of investigations into Omar al-Atrash established him as a suspect in a string of suicide bombings and attacks in Lebanon’s Bekaa, Dahiyeh, and Saida. Atrash’s statements provided invaluable information, as the detained cleric allegedly confessed to transporting two Saudi suicide bombers, who are still at large, to Beirut. Atrash has now been officially charged, paving the way for further questioning.

On January 30, an official statement by Lebanon’s army command confirmed previous press reports regarding Atrash’s confessions to his role in the recent wave of deadly bombings in Lebanon. Atrash has been referred to a military court, which charged him over his alleged role in the attacks.

Al-Akhbar learned that the military court intends to request the intelligence directorate to expand the scope of the investigations into Atrash. According to informed sources, the information the suspect may be in possession of cannot be extracted from him in just a few days of investigations.

Atrash reportedly spoke at length during his interrogation about his role in the terrorist bombings in Lebanon. The cleric also revealed some secrets about the work of jihadi organizations, but many details need to be followed up and verified. It is understood that there have been talks with the Ministry of Justice and the military court to get their consent to keeping Atrash in the custody of army intelligence for a longer period of time.

According to the same sources, Atrash was apprehended while army intelligence was in pursuit of a Saudi national, who, according to US intelligence tips, had entered Lebanon to carry out a major terrorist attack. During the search for the Saudi, information surfaced that made Atrash a suspect.

Atrash was subsequently arrested. Shortly after, he admitted his intent to move the Saudi national, who remains at large, to the capital. Atrash also confessed that he had previously brought another Saudi to Beirut, revealing that both of the Saudis were commissioned in Syria to carry out two suicide attacks in areas with sizeable Hezbollah influence.

Atrash also confessed that the registration papers found in his possession belonged to cars in the process of being moved to Beirut, to be handed over to suicide bombers for detonation in Dahiyeh or other areas. The suspect also said he was helping with logistics, including transferring funds.

The sources said Atrash disclosed information about certain events, details of which had been hitherto secret, including facts like:

– Atrash transported to Beirut the two suicide bombers who attacked the Iranian embassy, handing them over to the Palestinian fugitive Naim Abbas. Abbas operates from Palestinian refugee camps, including Ain al-Hilweh in South Lebanon.

– Atrash transported one of the suicide bombers involved in the Haret Hreik bombings to Khaldeh, also handing him over to Abbas.

– Atrash sent one of the suicide bombers using a microbus from Bekaa to Beirut, where Abbas was waiting for him. Abbas then moved the bomber to another location, where he gave him the explosive-rigged vehicle and an explosive belt.

– He transferred funds to Abbas, which he obtained from inside Syria.

– The two suicide bombers who blew themselves up at Lebanese army checkpoints in Awwali and Saida, and who until now had not been identified, were Qatari nationals, whom Atrash helped move from Bekaa to Beirut.

– The suicide bomber in the recent attack in Hermel was probably the brother of a Lebanese national who blew himself up in Syria a while ago.

Naim Abbas: The Mastermind

Investigations into Atrash revealed Abbas, born in 1970, as a prominent al-Qaeda figure in Lebanon and the mastermind of a number of suicide attacks that targeted the southern suburbs of Beirut. In statements given by Islamist prisoners in Lebanon years ago, Abbas was named as the perpetrator of the assassinations of Army Major General Francois al-Hajj and MP Walid Eido. The prisoners cited leaders of Fatah al-Islam as the source of this information, but security services were not able to verify its accuracy.

According to reports, Abbas resides in South Lebanon’s Ain al-Hilweh camp, bearing in mind that security reports indicate Abbas often vanishes from the camp before reappearing with his beard shaven.

Atrash’s confessions have revealed that Abbas, who is a former member of the Islamic Jihad, is the same person known as Abu Suleiman. The latter was previously identified by the army as the owner of a warehouse in an area near Dahiyeh. Abbas, according to the same reports, gave a bomb-rigged car to Qutaiba al-Satem, the perpetrator of the first suicide bombing in Haret Hreik, after receiving it from Atrash.

The sources pointed out that Atrash confessed when he was confronted with damning evidence, including recordings of phone conversations proving his involvement, in addition to images sent by phone of the rigged cars and the perpetrator of one of the suicide attacks in Dahiyeh.

According to the sources, the army tasked a doctor to examine Atrash before handing him over to the military judiciary, to prove that he was not beaten in custody. Both the forensic doctor and Atrash have signed a report to this effect, the sources added.

Government commissioner to the military court, Judge Saq Saqr, charged Atrash and 12 others, including Lebanese, Syrian, and Palestinian nationals and other unidentified suspects, with joining an armed terrorist group with the goal of carrying out terrorist attacks, recruiting people for terrorist acts, and involvement in the bombings in Haret Hreik. Judge Saqr referred the case to the military investigative judge.

In the meantime, the army’s crackdown on terrorism continues. According to reports, more than 20 suspects have been arrested over the past two months, including Danish, Belgian, and German nationals suspected of being members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), al-Nusra Front, and the Abdullah Azzam Brigades.

In the same vein, investigations with detainee Jamal Daftardar, who was arrested by the intelligence directorate in Kamed al-Loz, continue. Daftardar had been under close surveillance after Lebanon received US tips regarding the movements of the now-deceased leader of Abdullah Azzam Brigades Majed al-Majed, as Daftardar was in charge of medical care for the latter in Lebanon.

According to reports, Daftardar is from the second generation of al-Qaeda operatives. His role focused on explosives and combat training. Al-Akhbar learned that his 16-year-old wife has since been released by the authorities, but was referred to General Security for processing, as she is a Syrian national. It appears that Daftardar knew the real identity of Majed, unlike others who were taking the Saudi terror leader to hospital or paying his medical bills.

(Al-Akhbar)

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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