Lebanese intelligence thwart ISIS attack plans

By Tamer Abu Zaid in Beirut


Lebanese armed forces take part in a military parade for Independence Day celebrations on November 22nd in Beirut. [Anwar Amro/AFP]

A sting operation carried out by Lebanese intelligence over the course of five months succeeded in entrapping a high-level "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) operative and thwarting a series of planned attacks, officials said.

The operation, carried out by the Internal Security Forces' Intelligence Division and code-named Operation Safe Lebanon, succeeded in entrapping Iraqi ISIS leader Abu Jaafar al-Iraqi and those collaborating with him in Lebanon.

Al-Iraqi had been formulating plans to target places of worship, recreation facilities and government buildings in Lebanon over the holidays.

Interior Minister Nohad al-Machnouk revealed details of the operation during a Friday (January 19th) press conference, saying Abu Jaafar had been lured to Lebanon by an operative working with the Intelligence Division.

ISIS had devised a new strategy for Lebanon, which included the dispatch of an unsuspected leader who was assigned to build a network for ISIS in Lebanon.

Multi-phase sting operation

"The operation took place over four stages," al-Machnouk said. "First, the source met Abu Jaafar twice in Turkey, and then lured him to come to Lebanon on June 21st."

"The second stage took place when the two stayed at a bugged flat in an area of Mount Lebanon, where the Iraqi operative presented ISIS's new plan and told the source about a trusted Lebanese citizen who would help recruit elements."

These elements were to be used for carrying out attacks in Lebanon, he said.

The Intelligence Division presented clips of their meetings, in which Abu Jaafar revealed that ISIS's "sharia judge" had issued fatwas calling for decapitating people in Lebanon and destroying bridges, among other destructive actions.

"The two men then met the Lebanese citizen, who handed Abu Jaafar a list of 10 individuals nominated for working with ISIS," al-Machnouk said.

Al-Machnouk presented an audio recording in which Abu Jaafar asks the source to move to the Bekaa Valley, meet an ISIS element and set the goals of upcoming operations.

"When Abu Jaafar decided to return to Iraq on June 27th, a decision was made to secretly arrest him", along with the other operatives, he said.

"Then came the third stage, in which Abu Jaafar was allowed to continue with his contacts with ISIS leadership in Iraq under the supervision of the Intelligence Division," al-Machnouk said. "He convinced the group that he needed to stay in Lebanon and to have more elements come from Iraq and Syria."

"As to the fourth stage, it included reassuring the leadership in Iraq that there was a plan to launch operations [in Lebanon] during the holidays," he added.

"When the New Year holidays passed without anything happening, the group's leadership knew that Abu Jaafar had been arrested," al-Machnouk said.

Major security breakthrough

With the success of the sting operation, Lebanese security agencies achieved a major breakthrough and were able to break up several terror cells, strategic expert and retired army Brig. Gen. Johnny Khalaf told Al-Mashareq.

"The breakthrough was well received within the international intelligence community, as the discovery of networks is always seen as an important development," he said. "This operation was the result of collection of information, co-operation between all the security agencies, and the sharing and analysis of information."

"If the agencies had not co-operated, a terrorist operation of that magnitude would not have been unveiled," he said.

"There is now a joint operations room among the different security agencies, where information is shared and analysed, and where information is also received from overseas sources on sleeper cells and plans," he added.

Security agencies have been engaged in round-the-clock surveillance, he added.

"Thanks to this, we were able to achieve a breakthrough in combating terrorism and pre-emptive security," he said.

"Our country is no longer fertile soil for terrorist cells because of the strict surveillance and the major security efforts in dismantling sleeper cells," he said.

Strengthening Lebanon's security

Lebanese security agencies have received sophisticated equipment and training from foreign allies, Khalaf said, adding that "these are essential matters that help us with our security".

"We also send [security personnel] overseas for training and they do achieve good results," he said. "There is now better application of information between Lebanon and the outside world."

With the success of Operation Safe Lebanon, "Lebanon has moved from combating terrorism through military operations to the intelligence battle", military expert and retired Brig. Gen. Khalil al-Helou told Al-Mashareq.

Lebanese forces have succeeded in penetrating the terrorist group, he said.

"This stresses Lebanese security agencies' ability to defend Lebanon's unity and protect it," al-Helou added.

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