Last updated: 1 January, 2014

Lebanon arrests head of Al-Qaeda-linked group

Lebanese troops have arrested the leader of the Al-Qaeda-linked group that claimed a double suicide bombing at the Iranian embassy in Beirut in November, the defence minister told AFP Wednesday.

Majid al-Majid, the “emir” of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, “was arrested by the intelligence services of the Lebanese army in Beirut”, Defence Minister Fayez Ghosn said, without specifying when the arrest took place.

“He was wanted by the Lebanese authorities and is currently being interrogated in secret,” the minister added.

Saudi Arabia’s interior ministry also confirmed that Majid Mohammed Abdullah al-Majid, a Saudi citizen, was on a list of 85 suspects wanted by the kingdom.

The Azzam Brigades was designated in the United States as a “terrorist organisation” in 2012, and has in the past claimed responsibility for firing rockets into Israel from Lebanon.

The group was formed in 2009 and is believed to have branches in both the Arabian Peninsula and Lebanon, with the latter named after Ziad al-Jarrah, a Lebanese citizen who participated in the September 11, 2001 attacks.

The Lebanon branch has sporadically fired rockets into northern Israel since 2009 and the Brigades also claimed responsibility for the 2010 bombing of a Japanese oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz.

It is named for the Palestinian mentor of the late Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden. He was killed in a 1989 bomb blast.

According to Islamist sites, Majid was revealed to be the leader of the Brigades in 2012.

On Wednesday, a Twitter account belonging to Sirajeddin Zreikat, a member of the Sunni Muslim extremist group, appeared to have been suspended.

Zreikat had claimed responsibility in the group’s name for the November 19 double bombing at the Iranian embassy in Beirut that killed 25 people.

The attack came amid rising tension in Lebanon over the role of the Iran-backed Shiite movement Hezbollah in the war in neighbouring Syria.

Hezbollah, which like Iran is allied with the Syrian regime, has dispatched its fighters to battle the uprising alongside government troops.

In claiming the Iran embassy bombing, Zreikat warned of more attacks in Lebanon if Hezbollah kept sending troops to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

In 2009, Lebanese authorities sentenced Majid in absentia to life in prison for belonging to a different extremist group, the Al-Qaeda-inspired Fatah al-Islam.

That organisation was involved in heavy fighting with the Lebanese army in 2007 in the Palestinian Nahr al-Bared camp in northern Lebanon, in which more than 400 people were killed, including 168 soldiers.

After the fighting, many members of the group took refuge in the Ain al-Helweh Palestinian camp, which is believed to house numerous Islamist extremists.

A Palestinian official in the camp told AFP on Wednesday that Majid had left Ain al-Helweh in mid-2012 for Syria.

“With the war in Syria, we decided that (non-Palestinian) Arab citizens would not be allowed to remain in the camp, after information that jihadists were fighting alongside the rebels,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

“He left the camp with five Saudis and Kuwaitis and they went to Syria. We didn’t know that he had returned to Lebanon.”