Former ISIS element targets Lebanon's Tripoli

By Tamer Abu Zaid in Beirut


Lebanese security forces inspect the building where a militant attacked a security forces patrol and blew himself up when confronted in the northern port city of Tripoli on June 3rd, on the eve of Eid el-Fitr. [Ibrahim Chalhoub/AFP]

On the eve of Eid al-Fitr, Lebanon's northern city of Tripoli was rocked by a terror attack by a former "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) element who had fought in Syria.

Lone gunman Abdul-Rahman Mabsout on Monday night (June 3rd) went on a shooting spree that led to the death of two army personnel and two members of the Internal Security Forces (ISF).

According to Lebanon’s army command, the militant was riding a motorcycle when he opened fire on a branch of the central bank and an adjacent ISF post, killing one soldier and critically wounding another who later died of his injuries.

Mabsout then opened fire on an army patrol headed to the scene of the attack, killing a soldier and wounding several others.

Army and ISF forces were pursuing Mabsout when he entered a residential building near Dar al-Tawleed.

An army force raided the building and exchanged fire with the militant, which led to the death of one more army personnel.

Military reinforcements were sent to the area and Mabsout killed himself by detonating an explosive vest he was wearing.

Lone wolf attack

The lone gunman was a former member of ISIS who had fought with the extremist group in Syria.

Mabsout left Lebanon for Turkey in 2015 in an attempt to join ISIS and stayed there for a month, but he was unable to cross the border toward ISIS-controlled areas.

He later managed to travel to Idlib and join ISIS. Several months later, Mabsout returned to Lebanon where he was detained in 2016.

He was referred to a military court which sentenced him to one and a half years in prison, but was released early in 2017.

At a press conference in Tripoli following the attack, Interior Minister Raya al-Hassan stressed that security in Lebanon "will always be under control as long as all the military and security agencies are united in confronting and combating terrorism".

"Tripoli has once again won against terrorism thanks to the major co-ordination between the security and military forces, and also thanks to the Lebanese people's support of their military and security agencies' counter-terrorism efforts," she said.

Such terror attacks, known as "lone wolf attacks", represent a new type of terrorism which "cannot be prevented 100%", she said. "However, we are fully prepared to combat them."

'Full vigilance and readiness'

Meanwhile, President Michel Aoun on Wednesday (June 5th) chaired a security meeting at the Baabda Palace to discuss the terror attack in Tripoli.

"Combating terrorism is an ongoing task for security and military agencies, and requires full vigilance and readiness," Aoun said.

He stressed the importance of "co-ordination, co-operation and intelligence-sharing between these agencies", calling for intensive monitoring of terror suspects and pre-emptive security operations.

Aoun also called for "taking exceptional security measures during holidays and the summer season".

Maj. Gen. Imad Othman lauded the role of the people of Tripoli in guiding the security and army forces to the terrorist's location and following his movements.

There are no support bases for terror groups in Tripoli, he said, "and this is the case everywhere across Lebanon".

Khaldoun al-Sharif, advisor to former PM Najib Mikati told Al-Mashareq that even though the attack was conducted by a lone wolf, "it is clear that the terrorist belongs to ISIS" and is influenced by the group's ideology.

Such an operation necessitates intensifying the presence of security forces and intelligence agencies and increased vigilance, he said.

"It also requires co-ordination among all security agencies, and this was what we saw on the ground last night in Tripoli," he added.

"The terrorist attack in Tripoli is an isolated incident and is linked to just one desperate person influenced by ISIS," Future Movement official and former Tripoli MP Mustafa Allouch told Al-Mashareq.

"But this does not mean that we should not be on the lookout," he said. "Caution and pre-emptive operations are of the utmost importance".

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