Lebanon nabs al-Qaida-affiliated cell

Local papers say cell amassed weapons for use against Israeli targets.

al-qaida claim 298.88 (photo credit: alsaha.fares.net)
al-qaida claim 298.88
(photo credit: alsaha.fares.net)
Four Palestinians and four Lebanese nationals with suspected links to Al Qaida, who are believed to have been involved in rocket attacks on northern Israel in December, were recently arrested by Lebanese security officials. Lebanese media reports over the weekend revealed that the suspects were arrested by Lebanese Army Intelligence officials in various areas extending from Beirut to the Beka'a Valley and the south. The Al Safir and The Daily Star newspapers, stated that a large stockpile of weapons, including missiles, rockets and explosives, that had been stashed in caves and on lands the suspects owned, were also seized. According to sources quoted in the newspapers, the Lebanese intelligence had been monitoring the network for some time after receiving tip off's regarding their activities. The investigation is still ongoing. After the Al Qaida claimed responsibility for the December katyusha attacks on Kiryat Shomona, Shlomi and the western Galilee, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz declared the Israeli security establishment would closely monitor the situation in southern Lebanon. "In the past two years we have noticed that Al Qaida is focusing more and more on the Middle East and Israel," Mofaz told reporters while touring the northern border. "We are prepared to deal with that reality," he added. According to security officials, Palestinian terror factions operating in southern Lebanon assist Al Qaida operatives. At the time, Mofaz estimated that security assessments show that the situation is expected to become more complex in 2006. The Hizbullah denied involvement in the December rocket attacks, and Israeli intelligence officials estimated that Ahmed Jabril's Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine was responsible. Two days after the katyusha attacks, Al Qaida in Iraq claimed responsibility, issuing a statement on an Islamic website, "The lion sons of Al Qaida launched a new attack on the Jewish state by launching ten missiles... from the Moslem lands in Lebanon on selected targets in the north of the Jewish state." Media reports in Lebanon claim that in recent months Lebanese officials have been alarmed over the influx of weapons from Syria that reach militant Palestinian groups based in the Beka'a Valley and the Na'ameh area south of Beirut. Last Wednesday, the Lebanese Army deployed tr Troops in two villages located near the Nahr al Kabir river, that separates Syria from Lebanon in an attempt to prevent the entry of "illegal foreigners" and weapons into Lebanese territory. The measures were in addition to a number of military checkpoints set up by the Lebanese Army days earlier, in an attempt to prevent the flow of weapons from reaching the Hizbullah, or Palestinian groups based in southern Lebanon. According to the reports, the check points were set up in the mountain passageways in the Upper Hemel, where the Syria and Lebanese borders meet. On Thursday, Lebanese parliament member Walid Jumblatt expressed hopes that "the last shipment of weapons which recently entered the country, would be the last one smuggled into Lebanon from Syria." Speaking at the UN headquarters, Jumblatt was referring to truckloads of arms and missiles that arrived from Syria and were destined for the Hizbullah in February this year. At the time the weapons haul was made public, Jumblatt indicated that while the Lebanese army had intercepted the arms shipment, it had allowed its delivery to Hizbullah and Palestinian groups. According to the Al Safir report, Jumblat informed Terje Ried-Larsen at Thursday's meeting that he had received assurances from the Lebanese Army commander Michel Suleiman that it will not happen again.