Lebanon arrests fugitive cleric Ahmad al-Assir: security sources
Lebanon on Saturday arrested a fugitive Islamist cleric wanted over deadly clashes with the army as he tried to flee the country, security sources told AFP.
“Lebanese authorities arrested Ahmad al-Assir this morning at the airport. He had changed his appearance and was trying to leave the country,” a security source said.
Security sources added that Assir, who had shaved his beard, was using a fake passport and was trying to fly to Egypt.
The firebrand cleric had been on the run since June 2013, after he and his supporters engaged in a deadly two-day battle with the Lebanese army in the southern city of Sidon.
The army seized his headquarters after 48 hours of clashes that killed 18 soldiers, but Assir was able to escape with several of his followers.
He continued to issue audio statements while on the run, and various rumors circulated as to where in Lebanon he was hiding.
In 2014, a military judge recommended prosecutors seek death sentences for Assir and 53 others, including singer-turned-fundamentalist Fadel Shaker.
He and his associates were accused of “having formed armed groups that attacked an institution of the state, the army, killed officers and soldiers, took explosive materials and light and heavy weapons and used them against the army.”
Assir was a virtual political unknown until the outbreak of Syria’s civil war.
He began making headlines after the conflict erupted by criticizing Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah movement and its ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Although he was born to a Shiite Muslim mother, his discourse was highly sectarian and he often accused Lebanon’s army of failing to protect Sunnis and being beholden to Hezbollah.
He encouraged his supporters to join Syria’s mainly Sunni rebels and to rise up against Hezbollah.
Assir also hit headlines with media stunts, including by taking a group of his followers to the trendy winter ski resort of Faraya in early 2013.
The clashes between his supporters and the army erupted on June 24, 2013, after they opened fire on a military checkpoint.
The fighting, which centered on the Abra district in the eastern outskirts of Sidon, spread quickly, wounding dozens of civilians and paralyzing much of the coastal city.
When the fighting was over, a variety of weapons including rocket launchers were found in Assir’s headquarters complex, which included a mosque, several office buildings and apartment blocks.