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World Council for the Cedars Revolution

Feb 27th
Home arrow News Content arrow Blog arrow Blog Items arrow Intelligence arrow 4 Soldiers Killed in Lebanon Bombing
4 Soldiers Killed in Lebanon Bombing PDF Print E-mail
Written by ROBERT F. WORTH   
Monday, 29 September 2008

Soldiers and policemen at the scene of a suspected car bomb blast that ripped through a bus carrying soldiers on Monday in Tripoli, Lebanon. Mohamed Azakir/Reuters
Soldiers and policemen at the scene of a suspected car bomb blast that ripped through a bus carrying soldiers on Monday in Tripoli, Lebanon. Mohamed Azakir/Reuters

TRIPOLI, Lebanon — A remote-controlled car bomb exploded Monday morning near a bus carrying Lebanese Army troops here, killing four soldiers and a civilian and wounding 20 people.

It was the latest in a string of recent attacks aimed at the Army in and around this northern city, where hard-line Islamist militants appear to be regrouping after their defeat by the Army two years ago in a Palestinian refugee camp.

Syrian officials announced that a car bombing on Saturday in Damascus, the Syrian capital, had been carried out by a suicide bomber linked to an extremist group who had arrived in Syria the day before from “a neighboring Arab state.” Syria shares borders with Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan.

Taken together, the bombing and the Syrian announcement raised fears of more attacks by extremist groups in Syria and Lebanon, though political leaders here drew sharply different conclusions about who might be directing the violence.

The bombing on Saturday killed 17 people, and it was the deadliest attack in Syria since the 1980s, when the Syrian state, which is secular, fought a long and brutal battle with hard-line Islamists bent on overthrowing it.

On Monday, Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, said,“Northern Lebanon has become a real base for extremism and constitutes a danger for Syria,” according to NBN Television, citing an as-yet unpublished magazine interview. Mr. Assad made a similar warning earlier this month and hinted that Saudi Arabia, engaged in a bitter political feud with Syria, was supporting the extremists.

Syrian allies in Lebanon have made similar comments about the threat emanating from the north, where some 20 people were killed in neighborhood battles between Sunni Islamist fighters and Syrian allies in recent months. A truce ended the violence in early September.

Sunni extremists have struggled to reassert their influence in the north ever since the summer of 2007, when the Army routed the militant group Fatah al-Islam after a long struggle in the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp.

But some Western-allied political figures in Lebanon said they feared that Mr. Assad’s comments, along with the recent bombings, might portend a Syrian effort to reassert military control over its neighbor — using counterterrorism as a pretext. Syria dominated Lebanon militarily for most of three decades before 2005, when it withdrew in response to Lebanese and international pressure after the killing of the former Lebanese prime minister, Rafiq Hariri. Last week, Syrian troops massed near the border with northern Lebanon, in what Syrian officials called an operation to root out smugglers.

“I think Syria is trying to justify why they need to come back to Lebanon,” said Misbah Ahdab, a member of Parliament from Tripoli, voicing an opinion commonly heard here.

Mr. Ahdab observed that although there are hard-line Sunni militant groups in northern Lebanon (where the population is mostly Sunni Muslim), Syria also maintains paramilitary networks there. While Saudi Arabia is often accused of supporting Sunni radicals as its proxies in the north, the same charge has been leveled at Syria.

One hallmark of such radical groups is “takfeer,” the practice of declaring fellow Muslims to be infidels so as to provide justification for killing them. In their announcement about the perpetrator of the bombing in Damascus on Saturday, the Syrian authorities said Monday that he belonged to “a takfeer group, some members of which were arrested earlier.”

Syrian investigators are trying to further identify the bomber through his DNA remains, according to the announcement, which was released by the Syrian state news agency.

On Monday, Lebanese investigators could be seen sorting through the remnants of the white bus where five people lost their lives in the early morning bombing here. All that remained of the car that held the bomb was blackened and twisted wreckage.

The 50-pound bomb was rigged to a Peugeot sedan, Lebanese military officials said, and was detonated by remote control as the bus passed on a street in an open area near the Tripoli port. Later in the day, the owner of the Peugeot arrived on the scene and was arrested, according to Lebanese television reports, though the reports suggested he did not know his car had been used in the bombing.

“I saw dead people and blood on the ground,” said Abdel Qadir Shehadeh, 11, who ran to the scene from his father’s used car lot, about 200 yards away, just after the blast. “The car was burning, and I heard people screaming. There was broken glass all over.”

Robert F. Worth reported from Tripoli, Lebanon, and Graham Bowley from New York.



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