Lebanon has arrested dozens of Islamic militants accused of
mounting a series of bomb attacks against Western targets and
plotting to assassinate the United States ambassador to Beirut.
The crackdown on Islamic radicals comes as Lebanon and its
political master, Syria, face unprecedented pressure from the United
States over their support for militant anti-Israel groups such as
Hizbullah, Islamic Jihad, and Hamas.
Six suspected Islamists were picked up over the weekend, raising
the number of detained to at least 45 since the wave of arrests
began nearly two weeks ago. The six men, including one handed over
by Syrian security officials, stand accused of "belonging to a
terrorist group" and "committing terrorist acts."
The first arrests were announced May 7, four days after a visit
by Secretary of State Colin Powell, who urged Beirut and Damascus to
halt support for Hizbullah and radical Palestinian movements.
The latest arrests come as the Arab world is experiencing a spate
of suicide bomb attacks. At least 70 people, including an estimated
22 attackers, have been killed in the past week in multiple bombings
in Saudi Arabia and Morocco.
In response, Western countries have issued a series of terror
alerts covering parts of Africa and southeast Asia, and at least two
airlines have suspended flights to Kenya.
In Saudi Arabia, authorities investigating the May 12 attacks in
Riyadh detained four suspects over the weekend. Interior Minister
Prince Nayef told reporters he believed the suspects belonged to Al
Qaeda. Mr. Nayef added at a press conference Sunday that US
investigators had come to examine the sites, and "we welcomed them
based on that, for examining only."
In another incident, a man with a gun was arrested Monday outside
the US Consulate in Dhahran, in eastern Saudi Arabia.
In Morocco, government agents staged raids Sunday in pursuit of
bombing suspects, detaining dozens around the country. The
government said that it had identified eight of the attackers, all
of whom were Moroccan.
Lebanon's antimilitant fight
Some of the detained Islamists in Lebanon are thought to be
members of Al-Takfir wal-Hijra - Repentance and Flight - a small but
extremist Islamic organization that has been linked to the Al Qaeda
network of Osama bin Laden. It is being held responsible for a
number of bomb attacks against Western fast-food restaurants in
Beirut and Tripoli in northern Lebanon in recent months. Last week,
Maroun Zakhour, the Lebanese military prosecutor, claimed that some
of the detained radicals had plotted to kill US Ambassador Vincent
Battle by attacking his motorcade with rocket-propelled grenades
while he visited Tripoli in January. The Islamists were also accused
of planning bomb attacks against the US Embassy.
A concocted campaign?
However, the timing of the crackdown has raised suspicions that
the alleged plots have been "manufactured" in order to please
"I am very skeptical that there was this big plot," says one
analyst who requested anonymity. …