Western intelligence warns of ISIS offensive in Northern Lebanon

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The remote hills above Ersal where Islamist militants have been hiding. (Photo: Haitham Moussawi)

Published Thursday, October 2, 2014

While all eyes are fixed on the desolate territory occupied by militants surrounding Ersal, Qatar decided to drop its Syrian delegate and instead take over direct negotiations with the kidnappers of the Lebanese soldiers and police officers who renewed their pledge not to kill any of the hostages. Recent information provided by Western intelligence agencies warned of the critical situation in the North.

Western intelligence agencies intercepted information suggesting that Tripoli-based groups linked to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) are planning to launch an offensive in the North, diplomatic European sources told Al-Akhbar.

According to this information, these groups are preparing to wage armed attacks and will probably attempt to take over certain border regions.

Lebanese security sources confirmed receiving such information. However, they ruled out the possibility of militants taking over certain regions, saying the activity of armed groups formed by Lebanese and Syrian militants suggests that they are planning to attack Lebanese army barracks.

Intelligence sources also pointed out that groups affiliated to al-Nusra Front in Lebanon’s Rachaya and al-Arkoub have been remarkably active recently. Al-Nusra leaders from Quneitra and Daraa have been visiting these areas to hold coordination meetings with commanders active inside Lebanon.

Sources, however, ruled out the possibility of Arkoub becoming a new Ersal due to its geographic location and its demographic composition, especially since the region has not rebelled against state control before.

On Wednesday, October 1, two serious attacks targeted the army in Tripoli in a way similar to the series of assaults that have been plaguing the city in the past couple of weeks and which have led to the martyrdom of a number of soldiers.

The first attack took place in the early morning hours near a school in al-Badawi neighborhood when unknown armed masked men attempted to kidnap a soldier who managed to escape after exchanging gunfire with the assailants. Although army vehicles patrolled the city’s streets after the incident, the security measures failed to anticipate a second attack that took place a few hours later.

At about 1:30 pm, an armed man opened fire from inside a red Hyundai at an army patrol near al-Mir bakery in al-Zahiriye, but no casualties were reported.

The soldiers retaliated when the assailant refused to stop. They pursued him down the city’s streets, and were able to capture him and bring him in for an investigation. Strikingly, the militants chose to wage the attack while children were leaving school.

A security source revealed that the militants are starting to adopt a new approach in their confrontation against the army and security forces, saying “the ones who get hurt are no longer being treated at private or public hospitals, but at a field hospital that the militants have established at an unknown location.”

A Qatari in the hills of Ersal

Back to the issue of kidnapped soldiers and police officers in occupied Ersal, Al-Akhbar learned that Qatar made a substantial change in the negotiation process by dropping its Syrian mediator – an Islamist from al- Khatib family who is close to al-Nusra Front – and opted to negotiate directly with the kidnappers. In fact, it was a Qatari official who held the recent meetings with terrorists from ISIS and al-Nusra.

The mediator is expecting the kidnappers to release one or more soldiers on Eid al-Adha as a “goodwill” gesture. The negotiations will then focus on exchanging the rest of the kidnapped soldiers for detainees who have not been put on trial yet, and not for convicted prisoners in Roumieh prison.

Meanwhile, Muslim clerics from the Qalamoun Scholars Committee met with representatives of ISIS and al-Nusra, who pledged “not to harm or execute any soldier or police officer, as a first step.” The kidnappers, however, stood by their conditions, saying they “will not release any of the hostages before the Roumieh prisoners are released.”

Yesterday, a meeting was held at the residence of Abu Khaled al-Hujairi in Ain al-Shaab region in Ersal, and was attended by six clerics from the Qalamoun Scholars Committee, including Sheikh Abdel Karim Khalouf and the Mufti of Baalbek and Hermil, Sheikh Bakr al-Rifai.

A number of Ersal’s sheikhs also participated in the meeting, along with a representative of the Muslim Scholars Committee, Sheikh Houssameddin al-Ghali, chief of the Northern Bekaa Intelligence Bureau, Colonel Melhem Hadshiti, and commander of Ersal’s police department, Beshara Njeim.

The officials discussed the issue of the kidnapped soldiers and the situation of Syrian refugees in Ersal, following the army raids on their camps and some violations that may have happened.

Khalouf confirmed that the “committee received a promise from the two kidnapping parties that they will not harm, execute or kill any of the soldiers, no matter how much time the negotiations will take.”

Speaking to Al-Akhbar, al-Rifai said “these meetings have nothing to do with the meetings and negotiations held by the Qatari delegate.”

“Following the pledge that was transmitted to us by the Qalamoun scholars, the families of kidnapped soldiers and police officers who are blocking the roads in the country, and even though we understand their situation, should stop doing so because the negotiations are starting to get on track,” he added.

Rifai indicated that the participants in the meeting agreed on establishing a headquarters for the General Security at a house adjacent to the Ersal police department.

The meeting coincided with terrorists kidnapping one person in Wadi Humaid in Ersal and another in the barren territory near Ras Baalbek. A security source said militants in a pickup truck, blocked the way of citizen Maher al-Amatouri. They seized his car and brought him to the barren area.

According to preliminary information, Amatouri is originally from al-Barouk in Shouf and he frequents Ersal to buy stone from the local quarry.

In al-Wassia area at Wadi al-Kheshen in the barren territory of Ras Baalbek, militants attacked the farm of Ghanam Ghanam, a Ras Baalbek native. They beat a shepherd and kidnapped Syrian national Hassan Talouj, and stole a tractor, some equipment and livestock.

At night, the army announced that an intelligence directory patrol found three bags in Ain al-Shaab in Ersal, which contained 66 kg of a chemical substance used to make explosives, equipped with an electric detonator. The army disabled the bomb and transported it to a safe location.


This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


Qatari delegate negotiating for release of captives in Ersal. Maybe he is the person who hired them, the "terrorists", in the first place, so they trust him.

Maybe it is an opportunity for the Sunnis in the region to confront each other openly, instead of putting the blame on Hezbollah for all their ailments.

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