The CIA has warned Lebanese officials that groups linked to al-Qaeda are planning a campaign of bombings in Beirut's Hezbollah-dominated southern suburbs, Lebanese officials said on Monday.
The unusual warning - US officials are barred from directly contacting Hezbollah, which the US has designated a terrorist group - was passed from the CIA's Beirut station chief to Lebanese intelligence last week with the understanding it would be passed to Hezbollah, Lebanese officials said.
Hezbollah officials acknowledged the warning and took steps to tighten security in the southern suburbs that are known as the Dahiya.
The move came days after a bomb wounded dozens of people in the area. One Lebanese official said the CIA warning included evidence that was ''very convincing and scary'' because it was so specific. The evidence included phone intercepts on cells operating along Lebanon's border with Syria, as well as inside Beirut.
''They had transcripts of calls made from known al-Qaeda people in Lebanon to people in the [Persian] Gulf that included detailed information about the attacks, including the amounts of explosives that had been smuggled into Lebanon,'' one Lebanese intelligence official said. ''We have already begun to make arrests.''
The CIA warning included information that at least three cells had smuggled military-grade explosives by the tonne into Lebanon for a pair of huge truck bomb attacks targeting Beirut's southern suburbs, where Hezbollah has many offices and maintains a heavy security presence.
A third cell of suicide bombers was planning to target a list of Hezbollah and Lebanese officials, as well as diplomats from nations, including Russia, that have been strong supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The US embassy declined to comment or to allow the CIA station chief for Lebanon to be interviewed.
Two other Lebanese officials confirmed a continuing operation to target and stop al-Qaeda operatives in Lebanon from conducting bombing attacks in support of the Syrian rebels.
Both officials pointed to a raid at the weekend by the Lebanese armed forces in the city of Aarsal, a key haven for Syrian rebels and a hotbed of anti-Hezbollah sentiment in Lebanon.
On Saturday, the Lebanese army captured a ''number of men from a number of different Arab nations, including the Gulf'' in possession of military-grade explosives, including some set to be used in suicide operations, Lebanon's National News Agency reported.
An unusually large number of Lebanese army units could be seen conducting patrols and manning checkpoints on the outskirts of the Dahiya. Inside the neighbourhood, Hezbollah forces were conducting security patrols and detaining suspicious people.
Residents said they were taken aback by reports the CIA had warned Hezbollah of a planned attack. ''We all think that the [Syrian rebels] are al-Qaeda and backed by the CIA and Israel,'' said Abu Ibrahim, a labourer from Haret Hreik, a suburb in the Dahiya. ''So why would they help us? Maybe they're realising how crazy their friends in Syria are.''
July 17, 2013Read the full article...