Le­banon ar­rests fugi­tive cleric Ah­mad al-As­sir: se­cu­rity sources

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL -

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.

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