Lebanese minister: Al-Qaida UN troop threat a 'bad omen'

Al-Qaida's Ayman al-Zawahri calls for "[expulsion] of the invading Crusaders who pretend to be peacekeepers in Lebanon."

UNIFIL 248 88 (photo credit: AP [file])
UNIFIL 248 88
(photo credit: AP [file])
The call by Al-Qaida's deputy chief for Sunni militants in Lebanon to attack UN peacekeepers is a bad omen for the country and a dangerous threat to its future, a Lebanese Cabinet minister said Tuesday. Osama bin Laden's chief deputy Ayman al-Zawahri called on operatives in an audiotape released earlier Tuesday "to expel the invading Crusaders who pretend to be peacekeeping forces in Lebanon and not to accept resolution 1701." Al-Zawahri was referring to the UN resolution that ended the war between Israel and the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah in the summer of 2006. A 13,500-strong UN force, known as UNIFIL, monitors the truce in southern Lebanon. "The road is long but they have to break the siege imposed on them and to shove their way to Palestine," al-Zawahri said, referring to Hizbullah operatives in Lebanon. The authenticity of the audio could not be independently confirmed. But the voice sounded like past audiotapes from al-Zawahri, and the posting where it was found bore the logo of Al-Sahab, al-Qaida's official media arm. Lebanese Sports Minister Ahmed Fatfat told Al-Arabiya television that al-Zawahri's comments were "very dangerous and a bad omen for the Lebanese." "In any country where al-Zawahri and al-Qaida settle, destruction prevails as we witnessed in a large number of countries," Fatfat said. UNIFIL spokeswoman Yasmina Bouziane said extremists have made similar threats in the past but indicated the peacekeeping force has comprehensive security measures in place. "We take all such threats seriously because the security and safety of UN personnel is paramount," she said. There have been several attacks on UN troops in Lebanon in recent years. Six Spanish peacekeepers were killed in a car bombing in south Lebanon last June. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack or another one that followed in July. But in a July videotape, al-Zawahri blessed the attack against the Spanish contingent. In January, a roadside bomb exploded near a UN vehicle traveling along a coastal highway south of Beirut, lightly wounding two peacekeepers. The US has strongly urged Americans to avoid traveling to Lebanon. "The US remains concerned about the threat of terrorist attacks against Western and Lebanese government interests in Lebanon," the State Department said in a new travel warning issued Monday. "Groups such as al-Qaida and Jund al-Sham are present in Lebanon, and they have issued statements calling for attacks against Western interests." Jund al-Sham is an Islamic militant group that follows the extremist ideology of al-Qaida. On Tuesday, Israel's daily newspaper Haaretz quoted the UN secretary-general's six-month report to the Security Council as saying that armed Hezbollah militants warded off UNIFIL peacekeepers last month when they discovered a truck carrying weapons and ammunition belonging to the Lebanon-based guerrilla group. Bouziane provided additional details Tuesday, saying that a UNIFIL patrol observed a suspicious pickup truck towing a trailer on the night of March 30. When the patrol started following the pickup truck, it was blocked by two other vehicles carrying five armed passengers, she said. The patrol challenged the armed men, who left the area shortly afterward before positive identification could be made, Bouziane said. "Whereas the circumstances of the incident are under investigation, the presence of armed elements in our area of operations constitutes a flagrant violation of Security Council resolution 1701 and infringement of UNIFIL's freedom of movement," she said.