BEIRUT (Reuters) – Islamic State insurgents who seized a Lebanese border town this month planned to turn Lebanon into another Iraq by unleashing sectarian war between Sunnis and Shi’ites that would have endangered the nation’s very existence, the army commander said.
General Jean Kahwaji told Reuters that radical Islamists on the march in Iraq and Syria still posed a “great threat” to Lebanon, which was torn apart by a 1975-90 civil war and has been badly buffeted by the Syrian conflict.
“The army hit them and continues to, smashing their plan,” said Kahwaji, 37 of whose soldiers were either killed or captured in the battle for the border town of Arsal. “But this does not mean that the story is over,” he said.
“They might think of another plan and try another time to cause Sunni-Shi’ite strife,” said Kahwaji, 60.
The Aug. 2 attack marked the most serious spillover to date of Syria’s three-year-old civil war into Lebanon and the first time a foreign invader has taken Lebanese territory since Israel entered the south during its 2006 war with Hezbollah.
Battle-hardened in Syria, the insurgents were members of radical Sunni groups including the Islamic State, which has redrawn the borders of the Middle East by seizing territory in Syria and Iraq. The group’s advance has accelerated since it seized the Iraqi city of Mosul in June.
Dozens of the militants were killed in Arsal during a five-day battle with the Lebanese army, according to army estimates. The militants withdrew into the mountainous border zone last Thursday, taking with them 19 captive soldiers.
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