Lebanese Army Seizes Top Al Qaeda-Linked Militant
Lebanon's army on Wednesday arrested a senior al Qaeda-linked militant described by security sources as a "mastermind of car bombs" that have targeted several Shi'ite areas in recent months.
Security sources said the arrest of Naim Abbas could help uncover radical jihadi cells in Lebanon, which have been ratcheting up attacks against the army and against the political and militant Shi'ite group Hezbollah.
The surge in violence in Lebanon is linked to the three-year conflict in neighboring Syria, with sectarian tensions between Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims rising on both sides of the border.
Security sources said Abbas played a role in four car bomb attacks targeting Shi'ite suburbs of southern Beirut and two more in the mostly Shi'ite town of Hermel, all Hezbollah strongholds.
Scores of civilians were killed in the attacks.
"He drove the suicide bombers to the southern suburbs.
He is the mastermind of car bombs, he is as important as Majid al-Majid," another source said, referring to another top militant.
Majid bin Muhammad al-Majid, seized by the army in December, was leader of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades named after a founder of al Qaeda and associate of the late Osama bin Laden.
They were formed around 2005 as a spinoff from al-Qaeda in Iraq.
Hours after Abbas's arrest, security forces found two booby-trapped cars, one loaded with 100 kg of explosives in the Corniche al-Mazraa district of central Beirut and another near the town of Arsal, on the frontier with Syria.
The Lebanese army said in a statement three women were inside the second booby-trapped car, which it said came from Yabroud in Syria where the Syrian army is preparing an offensive to flush out rebels.
The women's task was to deliver the car to potential suicide bombers, the army said.
"It was he (Abbas) who confessed and gave the location of these two cars.
So far two cars have been discovered but many more will follow," a security source told Reuters.
The army also said that it had put Abbas under surveillance for some time after receiving information about his involvement in recent bombings, adding it had watched him closely since he left a Palestinian camp in south Lebanon before arresting him.
Abbas, a Palestinian, was snatched from his house in a Beirut suburb in a special operation led by the Lebanese army in the early hours of Wednesday.
Lebanon, which is still recovering from its own 1975-1990 civil war, has been struggling to stem the spillover of violence from Syria.
Hezbollah has sent fighters and advisers to help its ally President Bashar al-Assad, a member of the Shi'ite-derived Alawite minority, against mainly Sunni rebels who have become dominated by Islamist fighters.