BEIRUT — Lebanon’s army on Wednesday arrested a commander of a group loyal to Al-Qaeda that in November claimed a twin suicide attack against the Iranian embassy in Beirut, killing 25 people.
“After careful follow-up and monitoring, the (army) intelligence directorate in Beirut arrested the terrorist Naim Abbas, a commander of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades,” the army said in a statement.
Shortly afterwards, the National News Agency said soldiers were defusing a car bomb in a western neighborhood of the capital Beirut.
An AFP photographer at the scene saw troops examining a car.
“The Lebanese army is dismantling a car bomb parked in a parking lot in Corniche al-Mazraa,” the official news agency said.
“Naim Abbas admitted the existence of the car, which was intended to head to the southern suburbs of Beirut,” strongholds of the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah.
The Abdullah Azzam Brigades, which describes itself as loyal to Al-Qaeda, has been listed by the United States as a terrorist organisation since 2009.
The arrest of its Saudi leader Majid al-Majid was announced in early January. He died days later from poor health.
Abbas’s detention also follows the indictment of a Sunni Muslim sheikh, Omar Ibrahim al-Atrash, in connection with two suicide bombings in southern Beirut that killed at least six people.
In a late January statement on Atrash, the army had said Abbas was among three “wanted men” loyal to the Abdullah Azzam Brigades and Al-Nusra Front, Syria’s Al-Qaeda branch.
Lebanon has seen a string of deadly attacks linked to Syria’s war, claimed by Al-Qaeda-linked groups including the Abdullah Azzam Brigades.
Although officially neutral in Syria’s conflict, Lebanon is deeply divided over the rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad.
Shiite Hezbollah supports his regime and has sent thousands of fighters into Syria to back his troops.
Sunnis support the anti-Assad revolt, and Sunni jihadists have carried out numerous car bomb and suicide attacks against Hezbollah-dominated areas, killing civilians.