Lebanon foils ISIL operations in Beirut, Tripoli

By Nohad Topalian in Beirut

Lebanese forces recently foiled major 'Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant' attacks in Beirut and Tripoli. [Photo courtesy of the Lebanese Army’s Facebook page]

Lebanese forces recently foiled major 'Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant' attacks in Beirut and Tripoli. [Photo courtesy of the Lebanese Army’s Facebook page]

Lebanese forces last week apprehended a young Syrian woman planning assassinations in Tripoli on behalf of the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) and also foiled a suicide attack at a Beirut café .

Their successful preemptive actions have been hailed as outstanding security achievements that saved numerous civilian lives.

The General Directorate of General Security (GDGS) arrested Tripoli resident Bushra Fattouh on January 13th and charged her with belonging to ISIL, communicating with the group and planning to assassinate army intelligence personnel.

On the night of January 21st, the army Intelligence Directorate, in co-ordination with the information branch of the Internal Security Forces (ISF), foiled a suicide attack at the Costa café in Beirut's Hamra district.

The joint operation netted the would-be suicide bomber, Omar Hassan al-Assi, an army statement said, adding that an explosive belt he intended to use but was prevented from detonating also had been seized.

Close surveillance

Al-Assi had been a nurse at a hospital in Sidon and was a supporter of radical Sheikh Mohammed al-Assir, who led armed clashes with the army in June 2013.

The army statement said al-Assi "attempted to forcibly enter the café, where he engaged in a hand-to-hand scuffle with the military force then was taken to a hospital for treatment".

"An examination of the explosive belt by a military expert revealed that it contained eight kilogrammes of high explosives and a quantity of ball bearings to cause the highest possible death toll," the statement said.

Lebanese media reported that al-Assi had revealed he "received the order from ISIL with a religious fatwa from a sheikh in the Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp".

He said he had not realised he was under such close surveillance.

A day later, on January 22nd, the army command announced the Intelligence Directorate had arrested "four suspects in the building in which terrorist Omar Hassan al-Assi lived in the Sidon area".

Bushra Fattouh was arrested as a direct result of close surveillance and monitoring of the activities of terror groups and affiliated sleeper cells, a January 17th GDGS statement said.

Fattouh was arrested "based on information provided by the specialised Prosecutor General office stating that she belongs to a terrorist group", the statement said.

She confessed to belonging, along with other young women, "to a terrorist group and encouraging them to leave for Syria and join its ranks, communicating with terrorists in Syria, co-ordinating with the fugitive terrorist S.M. [Shadi Mawlawi] and his wife and collecting money for the purchase of a military pistol, hand grenades and explosive belts", the statement said.

She also confessed to plotting with Mawlawi’s wife "to assassinate an army intelligence officer with the military pistol".

Situation is under control: security chief

The "arrested girl made serious confessions", the GDGS told Al-Mashareq.

These revealed her "willingness to carry out a suicide attack, her recruiting of girls and sending them to Syria's al-Raqa, and purchasing weapons and ammunition in preparation for the assassination of Lebanese military and army officers".

"In spite of its modest resources, the GDGS is carrying out pre-emptive operations and achieving outstanding successes and accomplishments," General Security chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim told Al-Mashareq.

These include the dismantling and arrest of terror cell members and networks that were in the process of preparing for attacks that would have had catastrophic consequences for Lebanon, he said.

"The security situation is solid and under control , and we are on alert and our readiness level is high because the threat of terrorism remains," he said.

"ISIL is being dealt successive defeats in Syria and other countries and its networks are being hit and dismantled," Ibrahim said.

This might cause the group to look for gaps to slip through into Lebanon, especially in areas it sees as safe havens, such as refugee camps, "in order to carry out terrorist acts in retaliation for the successive losses", he said.

"Our priority is to fight terrorism by staying in an alert state of readiness."

Exploitation of the youth

Young men and women are manipulated into joining ISIL’s ranks by the leaders of extremist movements, said Asaad Sahmarani, professor of comparative religions and faiths at al-Imam al-Ouzai University in Beirut.

These unscrupulous people "buy their allegiance with empty slogans and some money and by deluding them into believing that they would be serving the religion with their takfiri acts", he told Al-Mashareq.

"Terrorist groups such as ISIL seek to recruit from all segments of society, including women," he said.

This needs to be addressed "not only with military and security operations and referring suspects to the judiciary, but by recruiting scholars, authors and educators to promote sound thought and proper upbringing based on faith without fanaticism and promote the culture of diversity", he said.

"The acceptance of others is the path to a dignified life," he added.

Tackling extremism requires "providing a seat to every student and job opportunities to the unemployed, raising generations on citizenship instead of fanaticism that leads to killing, and most importantly, drying up the sources of financing and weapons of terrorist groups and combating all forms of racism and takfir and the establishment of justice", he said.

Sahmarani highlighted the role of religious, educational, political and economic authority figures in tackling extremism, as well as the essential role of the family.

Islam "does not allow the killing of and blowing up of one’s self among civilians and innocents", Qasem Qassir, an expert on extremist groups told Al-Mashareq.

Extremist groups like ISIL take advantage of the general circumstances and social conditions to brainwash people of all age groups, including girls and women, "to carry out terrorist acts and blow themselves up for them", he said.

By running schools that set out to brainwash children and raise new generations of terrorists, ISIL is defying "all religious and jurisprudential controls and instilling its own violence-based concepts at an early age", he added.

"In view of the pressures it is currently under, ISIL is exploiting not only the Tripoli girl and Hamra suicide bomber, but many others like them," he said.

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