Lebanon says it foiled IS bomb plot to target Hezbollah stronghold

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Beirut (AFP) – Lebanon has foiled a plan by the Islamic State group to carry out three suicide attacks targeting Shiite religious compounds in the southern suburbs of Beirut, the Interior Ministry announced on Wednesday.

“A terrorist group had recruited young Palestinian men in Lebanon to carry out major bombings using explosive belts” and other munitions, Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi told a press briefing. hurry.

“Three separate targets were to be hit at the same time,” the ministry said, in an operation which Mawlawi said caused significant loss of life.

Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces (ISF) said instructions for the bomb plot came from an ISIS operative based in the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh, who is in contact with other other Sunni extremists in Syria.

The instructions were passed on to an undercover agent recruited by the ISF to infiltrate ISIS networks in Lebanon.

On February 7, the agent was tasked with planning attacks against a Shiite religious compound in the Al-Laylaki neighborhood, the Imam al-Kazem compound in Haret Hreik and the Al-Nasser religious center in the suburb of Ouzai in Beirut, said the ISF.

He received three explosive vests and other weapons to carry out the February 16 attacks, the ISF added.

Security forces have since identified four suspected militants residing in the Ain al-Hilweh camp who were allegedly involved in the bombing.

A member of the Lebanese Internal Security Forces shows off an explosive vest that should have been used in the planned attack by the Islamic State group against the Hezbollah stronghold in Beirut ANWAR AMRO AFP

Mawlawi said two suspects had been arrested, although he did not say whether they were among the four identified in Ain al-Hilweh.

The camp outside the main southern city of Sidon is the largest Palestinian settlement in Lebanon.

It gained notoriety as a haven for extremists and other fugitives.

By longstanding convention, the Lebanese army does not enter the country’s camps, leaving security inside in the hands of Palestinian factions.

ISIS is recruiting

The southern suburbs of Beirut, stronghold of the Shiite militant group Hezbollah, experienced a wave of bombings between 2013 and 2015 by Sunni extremists in retaliation for Hezbollah’s intervention in the civil war in neighboring Syria on the side of the Damascus government.

In 2015, two suicide attacks claimed by IS killed more than 40 people in the region.

IS’s latest plot came after the group’s leader, Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi, was killed in a US raid on his home in early rebel-held northwest Syria. of the month.

IS members demanded that a video be recorded ahead of the planned attack, in which the militants said they were carrying it out in honor of Qurashi, ISF said.

IS is believed to be exploiting an unprecedented financial crisis in Lebanon to lure recruits with the promise of high salaries.

A security source told AFP this month that around 48 Lebanese from the impoverished northern city of Tripoli have joined IS in Iraq since August.

At least eight men from Tripoli have reportedly been killed in Iraq since December.

In early February, Iraqi national security adviser Qassem al-Araji said Lebanese authorities had opened talks with Baghdad over the IS threat.

Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi said Lebanon was working closely with Iraq to keep tabs on Lebanese impoverished by the country's financial crisis joining the Islamic State group as foreign fighters
Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi said Lebanon was working closely with Iraq to keep tabs on Lebanese impoverished by the country’s financial crisis joining the Islamic State group as foreign fighters ANWAR AMRO AFP

Mawlawi is expected to travel to Baghdad soon to discuss Lebanese concerns, he added.

“We are following the case of Lebanese leaving Tripoli and joining IS in Iraq,” Mawlawi said on Wednesday.

“We are monitoring their movements and those of their relatives,” he added.

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