Lebanese intelligence foil ISIS attack on interior

By Nohad Topalian in Beirut

Internal Security Forces take part in a pre-emptive operation targeting extremists and ISIS cells in Beirut in this file photo. [Photo courtesy of Lebanon's Internal Security Forces]

Internal Security Forces take part in a pre-emptive operation targeting extremists and ISIS cells in Beirut in this file photo. [Photo courtesy of Lebanon's Internal Security Forces]

The intelligence division of the Lebanese Internal Security Forces (ISF) recently arrested an "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) element who confessed he had been preparing to carry out a suicide attack inside Lebanon.

The arrest was made as a result of the division's pre-emptive security operations, which include monitoring the activity of terror cells, particularly those linked to ISIS, the ISF said in an August 24th statement.

These operations succeeded in revealing the identity of a Lebanese individual affiliated with ISIS who was in contact with members of the group in Syria.

Acting on this information, a special forces unit of the intelligence division carried out an operation in the Jabal al-Badawi area of Tripoli, arresting a Lebanese national born in 1995 they identified only by his initials -- H.S.

According to the statement, H.S. confessed to being in contact with ISIS elements in Syria, and said he had intended to target an army checkpoint or a church with an "inghimasi" attack (a suicide attack from inside enemy ranks).

A relative was said to have supplied him with a weapon and an explosive belt.

Vigilance of security agencies

The "qualitative and successful" operation "comes in the context of the constant efforts being made by security agencies over the span of many years", said strategy expert and retired military officer Brig. Gen. Richard Dagher.

"This pre-emptive and preventive operation has greatly lowered the terrorism threat level in Lebanon," he told Al-Mashareq.

This is a testimony to the ability of the security agencies -- the army and army intelligence, General Directorate of General Security (GDGS), the ISF and the state security agency -- to work together for the common good, he said.

"All these agencies are working on tracking terrorist cells, and the investigation, intervention and pre-emption of terrorist attacks before they happen," he said.

Other factors that have enhanced national security are the "purge of Arsal and Ras Baalbek of terrorist groups", military developments in the field and the international war on terrorism, Dagher said.

"The war waged by the international coalition on [terror] groups destroyed their infrastructure, drove them out of their strongholds, hunted down their leaders and ended their physical presence," he explained.

"All this has had a positive impact inside Lebanon."

Dagher warned, however, that the threat from such individuals and groups is still active "to some extent, because they still have elements, cells and plans to undermine stability, that could be acted upon at any moment".

Disrupting terror networks

The recent operation and others before it "resulted in the disruption of a number of terrorist networks and the arrest of individuals involved in the preparation for attacks against army posts and [political] party leaders and headquarters", said Lebanese journalist George Chaheen, who specialises in security affairs.

He credited the success of these operations to "the continuous surveillance of more than one terrorist group in more than one region in Lebanon".

Security agencies have been disrupting the lines of communication between extremist groups inside Lebanon and those inside Syria who provide them with intelligence, money, fuel and weapons, he said.

These elements have been under surveillance since the conclusion of Operation Fajr al-Juroud, he said, noting that the GDGS has since arrested a number of them in operations carried out in co-operation with other agencies.

According to information released by the security agencies, H.S. began working with ISIS at the beginning of 2017, said Toni Issa, a strategy analyst with al-Joumhouriya newspaper.

This was before the start of the army's operation to oust ISIS and other extremists from the juroud -- the barren outlying areas -- of Arsal and Ras Baalbek, which took place in the summer of that year, he told Al-Mashareq.

"The possibility remains likely that there are subversive elements in Lebanese society, just like in any other society," he said.

But the fact remains, he stressed, that the Lebanese army and security forces have been able to disrupt the ability of ISIS and similar terrorist groups to form effective cells or occupy a certain geographical area.

Lebanon has "achieved its goal of disrupting ISIS’s capabilities, with the clear and close support of influential international powers, led by the US and Britain", he said, noting that "ISIS is facing total defeat throughout the Middle East".

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