2009 Country Reports on Terrorism - Lebanon
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||5 August 2010|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, 2009 Country Reports on Terrorism - Lebanon, 5 August 2010, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c63b63824.html [accessed 27 January 2015]|
While the threat of terrorist activity kept Lebanese security agencies on high alert throughout the year, 2009 was characterized by increased governmental efforts to disrupt suspected terrorist cells before they could act. The Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), in particular, were credited with capturing wanted terrorist fugitives and containing sectarian violence.
Several designated terrorist organizations remained active in Lebanon. HAMAS, The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), Fatah al-Islam (FAI), al-Qa'ida (AQ), Jund al-Sham, the Ziyad al-Jarrah Battalions, and several other splinter groups all operated within Lebanon's borders. Hizballah, which is a legal entity and a major political party, is represented in Lebanon's cabinet and parliament.
In 2009, terrorist violence and counterterrorist activity included the following incidents:
On five separate occasions, January 8 and 14, February 21, September 11, and October 27, Katyusha rockets were fired from southern Lebanon into Israel. No casualties were reported from any of the incidents. The AQ-inspired Ziyad al-Jarrah battalions claimed responsibility for several of the attacks.
On March 24, the Internal Security Forces (ISF) defused an explosive device near the home of former Lebanese President Amin Gemayel and arrested a Syrian, Youssef Mohammad al-Mohammed, who remains imprisoned.
On June 17, the Lebanese Army thwarted an attempt to drive a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device into the Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp in Sidon. Hasan Merhi, a FAI member was arrested in connection with the incident.
In July, the Lebanese Army arrested Syrian citizen Mounjed al-Fahham at Beirut International Airport. Investigations revealed that al-Fahham intended to smuggle out of Lebanon FAI spiritual leader Oussama Chehabi, known as Abou Zahra; FAI leader Abdel Rahman Awad; and Abdel Ghani Jawhar, wanted for 2008 attacks against LAF soldiers in Tripoli.
On August 19, an LAF intelligence unit arrested Lebanese citizen Wissam Tahbish, reported to be a key member of Jund al-Sham. Tahbish was the primary suspect in the 1999 assassination of four Lebanese judges in Sidon.
On September 17, a Lebanese military court convicted five Palestinians of armed attacks, including a January 2008 bombing aimed at United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) peacekeepers. The one member in custody was sentenced to three years of hard labor while four fugitive members, convicted in absentia, were given life sentences.
The June 7 parliamentary elections, an event widely considered vulnerable to politically motivated violence, passed peacefully under the watch of international observers and a fully deployed LAF. In these elections, the March 14 coalition led by Sunni leader Saad Hariri, defeated the March 8 opposition allied with Syria and Iran. After six months of negotiations between the majority and opposition, Saad Hariri brokered agreement over the cabinet and was named prime minister. He formed a national unity government, which included Hizballah. The new government obtained a vote of confidence on December 10.
Incoming PM Hariri announced that strengthening the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and the Internal Security Forces (ISF) would be a hallmark of his administration. General Jean Kahwagi, LAF commander since 2008, publicly listed counterterrorism, internal security, and suppression of sectarian violence as his top priorities. The U.S. government had an active security assistance program with the LAF and the ISF that included both training and equipment.
LAF commanders stressed that it has strengthened its surveillance capabilities over the 12 Palestinian camps and four Syrian-backed Palestinian military bases within its borders. Nevertheless, a porous border with Syria, weak internal camp security, and LAF reluctance to enter the Palestinian refugee camps all contributed to fears of another confrontation with an armed group, similar to the 2007 Nahr al-Barid conflict. The most widely predicted venue for such a clash is in Lebanon's most populous refugee camp, Ain al-Hilweh, near the southern city of Sidon. The camp is well known for HAMAS-Fatah violence and as a suspected safe haven for fugitive FAI terrorists.
UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1559 called for respecting the sovereignty and political independence of Lebanon, the end of foreign interference in Lebanon, and the disarming and disbanding of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias. While the Lebanese government was committed to fulfilling the provisions of UNSCR 1559, it maintained that Hizballah's disarmament should be accomplished through a National Dialogue, rather than by force. The new government's ministerial statement – similar to the policy statements of the last two governments – acknowledged the right of the Lebanese "resistance" (interpreted by many as referring to Hizballah's militia), along with the army, to recover occupied territory and confront external aggression.
The dismantling of four Palestinian military bases controlled by Syrian-backed groups remained a concern for the LAF. The Qousaya Base, which straddles the border with Syria and allows easy access for fugitives and smugglers, was of particular concern. Activity in these bases reportedly remained quiet in 2009, although without political support to dismantle them, the LAF can do little more than monitor the camps. However, Lebanon's political leaders had previously agreed at the 2006 National Dialogue to disarm Palestinian groups outside of the country's refugee camps. The new ministerial statement also called for the elimination of Palestinian weapons outside the refugee camps and obliged the government to provide security for Palestinian refugees.
Security along the Syria-Lebanon border remained problematic. The Government of Lebanon still does not exercise control over parts of the border. Over the course of the year, conflicting reports surfaced of weapons smuggling from Syria and Iran to Hizballah and other militant groups in Lebanon. Reports from UNIFIL and the LAF said there was no conclusive evidence of arms smuggling to Hizballah in the UNIFIL area of operations south of the Litani River. UNIFIL and the LAF described a suspected Hizballah arms cache that exploded in July in the southern village of Khirbet Selim as containing weapons that pre-dated the 2006 war and the establishment of UNSCR 1701. Nevertheless, Hizballah officials publically stated that the organization is now more heavily armed than it was before the 2006 war with Israel.
In June, then-Prime Minister Fouad Siniora announced the government's intention to improve border security. In July, an LAF-headed team produced a comprehensive border security management plan, for which the UN Special Coordinator on Lebanon (UNSCOL) is coordinating further technical evaluation with donor assistance. The Lebanese security agencies lacked strong interagency cooperation, so progress on implementing the integrated border management plan moved slowly. Some gains were achieved on port security through better radiological screening of incoming shipping containers, and upgraded customs inspection stations on the eastern border improved border inspections.
On March 1, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon was officially opened in The Hague. The investigation into the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and others continued.
Lebanon has not yet become party to two important international counterterrorism conventions. The International Convention on the Suppression of Terrorist Bombing was before the Parliament, but was sent back to the parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee for further study. The International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism was not submitted by the Foreign Ministry for cabinet approval due to reservations by the Finance Ministry.
Lebanon hosted the 2009 Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force (MENA-FATF) and played a leadership role in the U.S.-MENA Private Sector Dialogue. Lebanon's financial intelligence unit is the Special Investigation Commission (SIC), an independent legal entity empowered to investigate suspicious financial transactions, lift banking secrecy, and freeze assets. In 2009, it investigated 116 cases involving allegations of money laundering, terrorism, and terrorist financing activities. The SIC referred requests for designation or asset freezes regarding Hizballah and affiliated groups to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but the Lebanese government does not require banks to freeze these assets because it does not consider Hizballah a terrorist organization.
Lebanese authorities maintained that the amnesty for Lebanese individuals involved in acts of violence during the 1975-90 civil wars prevented the government from prosecuting terrorist cases of concern to the United States. These cases included the bombings of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut in 1983 and 1984 and the abduction, torture, and murder of U.S. hostages in Lebanon from 1984 to 1991. Mohammad Ali Hamadi, convicted in a West German court in 1987 of air piracy, murder, and possession of explosives for his part in the 1985 TWA Flight 847 hijacking, spent 18 years in a German prison before he was paroled in December 2005 and was believed to be in Lebanon. He remains under criminal indictment in the United States for his role in the hijacking, and the United States has previously sought his extradition from Lebanon.