Lebanon ramps up counter-terrorism measures

By Nohad Topalian in Beirut


Lebanese soldiers patrol in Sidon. Lebanese forces arrested hundreds of terror suspects in a national security crackdown following a series of attacks near the northern border. [Photo courtesy of the Lebanese Army Command's Guidance Directorate]

Lebanese security forces have been ramping up counter-terrorism measures across the country since eight suicide bombers blew themselves up in the northern border village of al-Qaa on June 27th.

The measures implemented by army units netted 1,499 individuals of various nationalities, the majority of whom were arrested on terror charges, the Lebanese Army Command's Guidance Directorate said in a July 11th statement.

Lebanon lies on a "turbulent" regional fault line, rendering it vulnerable to terror attacks, said retired military officer Brig. Gen. Richard Dagher.

The country faces two key security threats, he told Al-Mashareq. The first is geographic, as Lebanon shares a border with Syria and the territories of the two countries are interlocked, while the second pertains to Hizbullah’s open interference in the war in Syria.

This "heightens the threat of terrorism throughout Lebanon", he said.

"When we talk about measures to counter terrorism, we should distinguish between two courses of action: the simple and direct course of action that seeks to deal with the consequences, and the broader political course of action that seeks to deal with the causes and motives," he added.

Internal and external threats

The army deserves credit for its efforts on the external front, where it is thwarting any threat from Syria, Dagher said, and on the internal front, where it is confronting threats from inside Lebanon.

The threat of ISIL infiltrating into Arsal has been looming since August 2014, and it exists in al-Qaa today, he added, noting that the army is repelling the threat with all the measures it has taken.

"The arrests are the result of surveillance, monitoring and containment of incidents before they occur," Dagher said.

This requires constant monitoring of intelligence information on suspects and of their communications with terror elements, he added.

"It became apparent in the wake of the al-Qaa attack that the terrorist threat is very much present," he said, noting that security forces treat threats from the interior with the same urgency as they do external threats.

Stamping out sleeper cells

"It is no secret that there are sleeper cells that have sworn allegiance to ISIL and are willing to follow the orders of its leaders, who do not flinch from shedding blood without any regard to religion or faith, including the blood of their own elements," said political analyst Hussein Salamah.

"It stands to reason that the Lebanese security agencies would launch a proactive campaign to prevent crimes before they occur, instead of search for perpetrators after casualties are incurred and blood is shed," he told Al-Mashareq.

The search for these cells starts with the investigation of ISIL elements captured by security agencies to obtain names of members of sleeper cells before they are activated and used to carry out "lone wolf" attacks, he said.

The arrests that have netted thousands of ISIL and al-Nusra Front (ANF) elements "are among the most important security actions that protect the Lebanese arena from takfiri terrorism", Salamah added.

Co-operative security measures

Despite the country's current political instability, Lebanese security agencies have had to work together to bolster its security, Salamah said.

"Lebanon, even before the al-Qaa incident, has been on maximum security alert and has been dismantling sleeper cells, not all of which are announced so as not to create panic," journalist Charles Jabbour told Al-Mashareq.

Successful operations that are publicised are done so to reassure the public, he added.

"The al-Qaa incident [spurred] the security agencies to redouble their efforts and co-operate with each other," he said.

They consolidated information which facilitated the raids, ultimately resulting in the recent arrests, he said, noting that all of these measures fall under the heading of proactive security.

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