Lebanon: Clashes rock Tripoli, militant killed, two soldiers wounded
Antoine Amrieh| The Daily Star/25.1014
TRIPOLI/BEIRUT: The Lebanese Army clashed with gunmen in the northern city of Tripoli Friday night shortly after rumors spread that a high-value “terrorist” captured during a military raid in the Dinnieh region had died, security sources said. A militant commander was killed and two soldiers were slightly wounded in the clash that erupted around 8:30 p.m. in the neighborhood of Khan al-Askar and Tripoli’s old souks and subsided two hours later, the sources said.
The shootout began shortly after rumors spread in Tripoli that Ahmad Salim Mikati, a key ISIS member arrested by the Army during the raid in the Dinnieh region, had died, the sources said.
A number of gunmen took to the streets and began firing at military posts, prompting the Army to respond quickly and chase the gunmen, the sources told The Daily Star.
The militants then withdrew from the neighborhood and headed toward the old souks, slipping through small alleyways that cannot be accessed by armored vehicles, they added.
The Army quickly deployed reinforcements to surround the gunmen in the old souks. Soldiers closed roads leading to the Bab al-Raml neighborhood, near the site of the fighting, the sources said.
A senior military official said the Army would step up its “pre-emptive strikes” against terrorist groups following its successful raid in the Dinnieh region Thursday that led to the arrest of Mikati and the killing of three terror suspects.
“The Dinnieh raid is a link in a chain in the Army’s ongoing battle against terrorism. Whenever it receives information about the presence of terrorist groups, the Army will launch pre-emptive strikes at the right time,” the official told The Daily Star.
“The Army is determined to crush terrorism threatening the country.”
A day after his arrest during the Army raid in Dinnieh, Mikati has confessed to being a member of ISIS, allegedly telling interrogators that he planned to kidnap more servicemen to exert pressure on the government to accept a swap deal with the militants holding 27 soldiers and policemen hostage. “Ahmad Salim Mikati confessed he belongs to ISIS and that he regularly coordinated with his son [Omar] and nephew [Bilal] stationed in the outskirts of Arsal,” a security source told The Daily Star.
An Army statement Thursday described Mikati, 46, as “one of ISIS’ most important cadres” in north Lebanon. It said Mikati planned a “massive terrorist act” in coordination with his son, Omar, who is fighting with ISIS on the outskirts of the northeastern town of Arsal. Mikati is also accused of recruiting young Lebanese men to join ISIS on the outskirts of Qalamoun. The statement said Bilal Mikati was implicated in the beheading of 1st Sgt. Ali Sayyed.
Sayyed was among the dozens of soldiers and policemen that ISIS and the Nusra Front took hostage when they briefly overran Arsal in early August. The militant groups retreated to Arsal’s rugged outskirts after five days of fierce fighting with the Lebanese Army but are still holding 27 servicemen hostage after releasing seven and executing three. The security source said Mikati confessed that his group was involved in a plot to persuade Lebanese soldiers in the Dinnieh region to defect from the Army and join ISIS.
The group, according to the source, also planned to kidnap more soldiers and policemen, “to add extra pressure on the Lebanese government and raise the demand ceiling, be it in terms of a swap deal or to ease the security siege on the armed militants by the Lebanese Army on the outskirts of Arsal.”Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi met Prime Minister Tammam Salam at the Grand Serail to brief him on the Army raid in Dinnieh.
Kahwagi informed Salam of “the latest Army operation in Dinnieh that led to the killing of three terrorists and the arrest of a fourth [Mikati] and spared the northern region and Lebanon dangerous terrorist attacks that were being planned,” the National News Agency reported. The Army chief also briefed Salam on his visit to Washington, where he met with U.S. officials and military commanders of other countries participating in the U.S.-led international coalition fighting ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
Salam and Kahwagi reviewed the ongoing efforts to release the 27 Lebanese servicemen held hostage by ISIS and the Nusra Front, the NNA said. Meanwhile, the military said in a statement Friday night that DNA tests on one of the dead bodies of the three gunmen killed during the raid in Dinnieh belonged to Army defector Abdul-Kader Akoumi.