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Lebanon arrests militants suspected in recent bombings

Army says they are responsible for attacks on soldiers. The group is said to have been planning more blasts.

October 14, 2008|Raed Rafei | Special to The Times

BEIRUT — Lebanese security forces rounded up a group of Islamic militants believed to be responsible for a pair of bomb attacks targeting soldiers in the northern city of Tripoli, authorities said Monday.

Security officials did not disclose the circumstances of the arrests, the number of detainees or the name of the group. One official said the militant cell appeared to be linked to Fatah al Islam, a group inspired by Al Qaeda.

The security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the cell probably acted to avenge its defeat in 2007 at the hands of the Lebanese army during a months-long battle at the Palestinian refugee camp in Nahr al Bared, near Tripoli.

"We have uncovered some elements, but this does not eliminate the threats," Interior Minister Ziad Baroud told reporters after a security meeting Monday. "The security apparatuses will remain highly alert to prevent these threats from materializing."

A bomb targeting a military bus last month killed four soldiers and three civilians in Tripoli. The attack came less than two months after a similar bombing in downtown Tripoli killed more than a dozen people.

Those attacks, as well as a bombing in Damascus, Syria, last month that killed 17, raised fears of an upsurge of attacks by Islamic militants in Lebanon.

Members of Al Qaeda-linked militant groups are believed to be holed up in Lebanon's 10 or so semiautonomous Palestinian refugee camps, where they remain mostly out of the reach of government security forces.

On Sunday, the Lebanese army said in a statement that it had arrested members of a "terrorist cell" believed to have carried out the latest attacks. The statement said that "an explosive belt" was confiscated and that the group had been planning "other terrorist attacks."

A leading member of the group, identified as Abdel-Ghani Jawhar, was still at large, the army said.

Earlier this year, Fatah al Islam vowed to avenge the killing of members of its group and launch attacks against the army. The threats were made in purported audio messages from the group's leader, Shaker Abssi, who is believed to be either on the run or locked up in a Syrian prison.

The fighting between the Lebanese army and Fatah al Islam lasted more than three months and claimed the lives of about 400 people, including 168 soldiers.

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Times staff writer Borzou Daragahi contributed to this report.

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