Lebanese troops arrested a recruiter for the Islamic State group wanted for the beheading of a captured soldier, in a raid Thursday that netted more suspects and killed three gunmen, the army said.
“A military intelligence unit carried out a security operation at dawn in the Dinniyeh area” of northern Lebanon on an apartment in which jihadist Ahmad Miqati was living, a statement said.
Miqati and his son Omar were arrested in the raid. They, along with a Miqati nephew identified as Bilal “were involved in the slaying of martyred Sergeant Ali Sayyid” in the border town of Arsal, the army said.
Tensions have soared in Lebanon since August when the army fought deadly clashes with jihadists of the IS and Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front in Arsal.
The jihadists are demanding that Lebanon free Islamist prisoners.
Sayyid was one of 30 soldiers and policemen captured by jihadists in one of the August battles.
The jihadists have since executed three of them, and Qatari-led mediation has so far yielded no results.
Miqati “recently pledged allegiance to terrorist organisation Daesh,” using an Arabic acronym for IS, the army said.
Also known as Abi Bakr and Abul Huda, Miqati is “one of the most important members” of IS in northern Lebanon, the army added, accusing him of recruiting Lebanese to join jihadists in neighbouring Syria.
In fighting that broke out during Thursday’s raid, “one soldier suffered light wounds, while three gunmen who were present in the apartment were killed,” said the statement, revising downward an earlier toll of four dead.
The identities of the dead were not disclosed.
Separately, a security source reported the arrest of a soldier who recently announced his defection from the army, the fifth to do so since August.
All have announced their desertion in videos released by jihadists groups in which they claim they have joined militant ranks.
The army also confirmed reports it had seized “light and medium weapons… (as well as) ammunition, rocket-propelled and hand grenades, explosive belts and military equipment”.
Since August, the army has carried out near-daily raids in the border region with Syria — and in the restive north where four soldiers have been killed — to hunt for jihadist suspects.
Dozens of Syrians and Lebanese accused of ties to jihadist groups have been arrested in Lebanon since the August battles.