Fatah Islam burial 224.8.
(photo credit: AP)
Lebanese authorities Friday charged 20 suspected militants, including four with Russian citizenship, with terrorism for alleged membership in the al-Qaida-inspired Fatah Islam group, judicial officials and the state-run news agency said.
Prosecutor General Saeed Mirza filed the charges against 16 Palestinians and four Russians, the officials said condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Three, including one Russian, are in detention while the rest are at large, the officials added.
The Russian nationals are the first non-Arabs to be charged by authorities since Fatah Islam members fought Lebanese troops for three months starting on May 20. Dozens of Lebanese, Palestinians, Saudis, Syrians and other Arabs have been charged with terrorism so far.
The 20 latest suspects were charged with carrying out acts of terrorism, killing Lebanese soldiers and forming an armed group, state-run National News Agency said.
The officials said that one of the Russian nationals is from Dagestan, a mostly Muslim region of southern Russia. He was identified by his nickname, Abu Abdullah.
The others were identified as Sergei Vladimir Fisotski, born in 1989, Taymour Vladimir Khozkov, born in 1987 and Aslan Eric Yimkojayev, born in 1987.
Only Fisotski is in custody, the officials said.
It is not uncommon for Muslims from the former Soviet republics as well as Russia to join militant Islamic groups. Al-Qaida is known to have members from former Soviet states such as Chechnya.
They could face death if convicted of terrorism charges, the official added.
In the past weeks, Lebanese authorities charged more than 330 people of different nationalities of terrorism and belonging to Fatah Islam.
The latest charges came a day after 98 suspected Fatah Islam members were buried in a mass grave in the northern city of Tripoli.
Officials said the buried militants included Palestinians who had not been claimed by their families as well as nationals from Syria, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Yemen, Tunis and Algeria, reflecting the international makeup of Fatah Islam, that made its stronghold in the Nahr el-Bared camp outside Tripoli.
The Lebanese army battle against Fatah Islam ended on Sept. 2 after a three-month siege that destroyed large parts of Nahr el-Bared. The government has said about 220 militants and 168 Lebanese soldiers were killed, while Palestinian officials have said 47 Palestinian civilians died.
In August, Lebanese Army Commander Gen. Michel Suleiman said Fatah Islam was affiliated with al-Qaida, the first high-ranking official to make such a statement. He denied the group was created by Syria, as claimed by some Lebanese government officials.
Anti-Syrian Lebanese government officials have accused Damascus of being behind Fatah Islam in an attempt to destabilize Lebanon following its forced withdrawal from the country in 2005.
Damascus denies the claim, saying it considers the group a dangerous terrorist organization.