Beirut (AFP) – Lebanon thwarted jihadist plans to attack places of worship and government buildings over the holidays after gaining rare access to an Islamic State group operative, the interior minister said Friday.
Nuhad Mashnuq said at a press conference that an elite unit in Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces (ISF) had arrested an Iraqi IS commander in Beirut last June.
The commander, known as Abu Jaafar al-Iraqi, had been tasked by the IS leadership to establish an IS network in Lebanon, according to information presented at the briefing.
This network would not only carry out attacks in Lebanon, but could have potentially hosted top IS officials fleeing Iraq and Syria.
Full details of the operation and the current whereabouts of Abu Jaafar were not revealed.
But Mashnuq said that for five months after the Iraqi commander’s arrest the ISF kept tabs on him through a mysterious “volunteer,” who had gained his trust and rented a home for him that was bugged by Lebanese authorities.
“This is one of those rare operations where you have someone this important in the terrorist organisation, and you’re able to use him for five months to find out about the plans supposed to happen during the holidays, against places of worship and government buildings,” Mashnuq told reporters.
“The nature of this operation, as we explained, is unprecedented in the Arab world,” he claimed.
IS’s now-defunct “caliphate” spread across swathes of Iraq and Syria but never officially included territory inside Lebanon.
Jihadists from IS were entrenched along the Lebanese-Syrian border for several years however and claimed several deadly attacks in Lebanon.
According to a film shown at Friday’s briefing, Lebanese authorities had worked since the end of 2016 to lure Abu Jaafar to Lebanon with the help of Arab and international authorities.
An intermediary, trained in Turkey and cooperating with the ISF, rented out an apartment for Abu Jaafar that was being surveilled and met with him there several times.
Audio and video clips from the apartment were aired during the press conference.
Abu Jaafar allegedly asked IS leaders in Iraq and Syria for help in planning attacks on New Year’s Eve in Lebanon, and they said they may be able to provide suicide belts and automatic weapons.
He was ultimately unable to pull together an operation, the clip said.
The film mentioned one Lebanese IS member who had been arrested as part of the year-long operation. The minister did not mention any other arrests nor did he elaborate on the intelligence gained.