On-edge Lebanon braces for further terror attacks

Lebanon should brace for more waves of terror attacks after deadly bombings in the border village of Al-Qaa, security chiefs warned Tuesday.

“We should not rule out that this terrorist crime is a harbinger of a wave of terrorist operations,” read a statement released following the meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Tammam Salam.

“It could be an indicator of a new more aggressive phase of the battle with terrorist organizations, which work tirelessly to inflict harm on Lebanon and to drag it into chaos and ruin.”

High-level officials were briefed on the attacks that targeted Al-Qaa Monday, suspected of being carried out by Daesh (ISIS). They heard about the procedures being observed by the Army and the Internal Security Forces in the area and discussed possible courses of action.

The attendees called on Lebanese to maintain their faith in the state and the security establishment.

“This assault constitutes a qualitative transformation in the war being waged by terrorist organizations against Lebanon as a state and a nation,” the statement read.

“Reality dictates that we foster the highest levels of alertness and awareness and asks of all Lebanese that they confirm their absolute faith in their home and their absolute trust in the Army and security apparatus.”

They also asked the media to take great care when reporting security incidents and to foster accuracy in thorough news reports. “So that the freedom of expression, guaranteed by the Constitution, does not become a source of damage to the nation during this difficult time in our history,” the statement warned. The meeting included Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk, Defense Minister Samir Moqbel, Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi, General Security chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, Internal Security Forces chief Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Basbous, head of the Central Security Council Brig. Gen. Elias Khoury and Military Intelligence head Brig. Gen. Camille Daher.

A total of eight suicide bombers targeted the village Monday, killing five people and wounding 31 others. Funeral ceremonies were postponed due to security considerations.

Al-Qaa is a predominantly Christian village of 12,000.

Hundreds of Daesh militants are entrenched on the eastern outskirts of the village. The Army regularly bombards the militants’ positions and convoys with artillery and airstrikes.

Machnouk revealed that four of the eight bombers were Syrian. “Preliminary investigations suggest that four of the eight suicide bombers came from inside Syria,” Machnouk said. “Not from the surrounding refugee camps in Al-Qaa.”

Security sources told The Daily Star that three of the terrorists were identified as Syrian nationals after their severed heads were compared with images of Syrians who entered Lebanon legally and had their photographs taken at the border.

Al-Qaa witnessed a heightened sense of watchfulness as security and military agencies combed the area. Additional personnel were brought in overnight to deter any further attacks.

The ISF searched the entire village while the Army’s Airborne Regiment flew over the village’s outskirts in search of suspects. A bag containing bullets and detonators was found in one of the village’s orchards during the sweeps.

The Lebanese Army arrested more than 200 Syrian refugees in a series of raids on encampments in the north and northeast.

In a statement, the Army said 103 Syrians were arrested in Army raids across several areas in the Baalbek governorate, including the villages of Taybeh, Younin, Douris, Tal al-Abyad, and Al-Hamoudia. Nine unlicensed motorbikes and cars were seized.

The Army said in another statement that it had also arrested 124 unregistered Syrians at a refugee camp in the village of Rayhanieh in the Minyeh-Dinnieh district.

Moqbel visited the border town in the afternoon, but left without issuing a statement. Machnouk also visited Al-Qaa.

The Cabinet met in an extraordinary session Tuesday and observed a moment of silence for the fallen, before stressing that it would maintain a heightened state of vigilance.

“The Cabinet considers itself in a constant state of alert to deal with any security situation and announces that all state agencies will remain on full alert,” Information Minister Ramzi Joreige told reporters.

The Cabinet was set to discuss Lebanon’s finances, but following the attacks, security concerns topped the agenda. Discussions on the country’s financial situation and the state budget were postponed. Lebanon has been without a state budget since 2005.

“[The attacks] came as no surprise as security forces were anticipating a new terror attack,” Salam said before the session. “Terrorism doesn’t differentiate between one sect and another or one area and another … a Christian area was targeted today, but we have seen other Muslim areas under attack.”

He called on the country to unite rather than revert to sectarianism.

Hezbollah and the Amal Movement canceled religious gatherings which were set to take place Tuesday evening in Beirut and the eastern city of Baalbek. The Hezbollah-run Al-Manar TV said that the observance of Laylat al-Qadr, or Night of Destiny, at the Sayyed al-Shuhada Compound in Beirut’s southern suburbs was canceled, citing the country’s security situation.

The group also canceled another Laylat Al-Qadr gathering at the Sayyida Khawla Mosque in the eastern city of Baalbek.

“Taking into consideration the security situation and according to a decision by the movement’s leadership. … Amal’s Youth and Sports Department announced the annulment of the central Laylat Al-Qadr at Imam Shamseddine Compound in Beirut’s Tayyouneh area,” read a statement by Amal Movement’s press office.