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LEBANON: Key 'terrorist cell' figure still at large

October 16, 2008 |  7:19 am

SuspectLebanese security forces are hard pressed these days to track down a key member of an alleged Al Qaeda-inspired group.

Authorities arrested members of the “terrorist cell” in the northern coastal city Tripoli late last week, accusing them of carrying out two recent deadly bomb attacks against the Lebanese army.

According to local media reports, Abdel Ghani Ali Jawhar is a 25-year-old Lebanese whose brother was killed in fierce fighting between the military and Fatah al Islam, an Al Qaeda-linked Islamist group last year in northern Lebanon.

Officials and analysts believe Jawhar and his partners are seeking revenge from the army for its defeating of Fatah al Islam in the three-month battle that claimed the lives of around 400 people in the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al Bared.

Jawhar's  whereabouts remain unknown, but some media reports quoted security sources as saying that he was hiding in the area of Baddawi, the location of another Palestinian refugee camp in the country's north. The reports said that Jawhar was trying to get to Ain al Helwe, a refugee camp in the south notorious for hosting extremist Islamist groups out of the reach of the country’s security apparatus.

The daily Al Akhbar quoted a senior security official as saying that Jawhar is believed to be the suspicious man caught on a bank surveillance camera shortly before a bomb exploded in August in downtown Tripoli, killing 14 people, including nine soldiers.

A statement released by the Lebanese army said on Sunday that the “terrorist cell” that was uncovered was planning other attacks. The next day, the ministry of the Interior displayed in front of TV cameras weapons found at Jawhar’s sister's house, including an explosives belt, rifles, ammunition, bombs and guns.

Jawhar reportedly fled from the house, in the poor neighborhood of Bab Al Tebbane in Tripoli, before dawn Sunday and before security agents were able to arrest him.

There are fears that the uncovered Tripoli cell is just one of several Al Qaeda-type groups with plans to carry out deadly attacks in the country. The Lebanese English-language newspaper, The Daily Star, wrote in an article published today:

Security agencies believe the Tripoli cell was just one of many "jihadist" elements in Lebanon. Informed sources describe networks of loosely connected but operationally independent cells, linked only by an extremist ideology… The Tripoli cell appears to have been disrupted before it could escalate its bombing campaign further. Sources say the group was planning more spectacular attacks in coming months, including an audacious plot to bomb the headquarters of the ISF [Internal Security Forces] in Beirut.

Raed Rafei in Beirut

Photo: Abdel Ghani Ali Jawhar. Credit: Lebanese Army

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