WASHINGTON - The Saudi leader of an al-Qaida spinoff group arrested in Lebanon this week was a key fundraiser in the Gulf for militants fighting to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad, official and private experts say.
The Lebanese army arrested Muhammad al-Majid, who leads the Lebanon-based Abdullah Azzam Brigades which claimed a double suicide attack on the Iranian embassy in Beirut last November.
That attack was part of a spiral of sectarian violence in Lebanon that appears to be a spillover from Syria's civil war. In the latest incident, a car bomb killed at least five people in a Shi'ite Muslim stronghold in southern Beirut on Thursday.
Laith Alkhouri of Flashpoint Partners, a private group which monitors militant websites for business and government clients, said Majid had "been behind a great deal of financing to the jihadists fighting in Syria."
US and European officials say that the most militant Sunni factions fighting Assad's forces, including the Nusrah Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, both aligned with al-Qaida, are being financed largely by wealthy families in Saudi Arabia and Gulf states.
A US official who declined to be identified said Majid's arrest was, "at least a temporary setback, but certainly not a death blow, to the Ziad al-Jarrah Battalions, one of the most powerful Sunni terrorist groups in Lebanon."
"Under Majid's leadership, the group exported a degree of the sectarian carnage of the Syrian civil war to Lebanon by targeting Iranian and Hezbollah interests. At the same time, this is a faction that has demonstrated its resilience in the past, and Majid's experienced deputies may well step up to the plate in his absence," the official said.