Overview: The Lebanese government – despite the continuous political crisis, the formation of a new government dominated by the Syria/Hizballah-aligned March 8 coalition, and the looming threat of a spillover of sectarian violence from Syria – continued to build its counterterrorism capacity and to cooperate with U.S. counterterrorism efforts. Lebanese authorities increased efforts to disrupt suspected Sunni terrorist cells before they could act, arrested numerous suspected al-Qa'ida (AQ)-affiliated militants and Palestinian violent extremists, and uncovered several weapons caches. The Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), in particular, were credited with capturing wanted terrorist fugitives and containing sectarian violence.
On January 12, Hizballah and its March 8 allies withdrew their ministers from then-Prime Minister Saad Hariri's national unity cabinet and forced its collapse over issues related to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), which is investigating the February 14, 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Hizballah continued to object to the STL, which indicted four Hizballah members in July for collaborating in the killing of Hariri and 22 other individuals. In August, Lebanese authorities notified the STL that they were unable to serve the accused with the indictments or personally arrest them. On November 30, Prime Minister Mikati announced that the government had paid $32 million to the STL, thereby meeting its funding obligations towards the Tribunal through 2011.
Hizballah, with deep roots among Lebanon's Shia community, remained the most prominent and influential terrorist group in Lebanon. Several other terrorist organizations remained active in Lebanon. Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command (PFLP-GC), Asbat al-Ansar, Fatah al-Islam, Fatah al-Intifada, Jund al-Sham, the Ziyad al-Jarrah Battalions, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and several other splinter groups all operated within Lebanon's borders, though primarily out of Lebanon's 12 Palestinian refugee camps. The LAF did not have a daily presence in the camps, but it occasionally conducted operations in the camps to combat terrorist threats. In November, United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) reported that there has been no progress in efforts to dismantle military bases maintained by the PFLP-GC and Fatah al-Intifada; all but one of these bases are located along the Lebanese-Syrian border.
Over the course of the year, reports surfaced of weapons smuggling into Syria from Lebanon, and from Syria and Iran to Hizballah and other militant groups in Lebanon.
2011 Terrorist Incidents: Unlike recent years, there were no high-profile killings by terrorist groups in 2011. Hizballah and other extremist groups maintained weapons outside the control of the Lebanese government, and there were reports of armed clashes between its members and those of other groups. Incidents included:
On March 23, seven Estonian bicyclists were kidnapped by an extremist group in the Bekaa valley and later released on July 14.
On May 27, July 26, and December 9, roadside bombs targeted European contingents of UNIFIL in southern Lebanon, the last of which was blamed on Hizballah.
In August, armed militants failed in an assassination attempt to target the military commander of Fatah in Lebanon.
On November 29, unknown armed extremists launched two rockets from southern Lebanon into northern Israel. There were no reports of casualties.
On December 7, unknown assailants attempted to assassinate Fatah military leader Sobhi Arab in Ain el-Hilweh refugee camp.
On December 9 and 11, rockets were launched from southern Lebanon aiming for Israel; in both cases rockets landed in Lebanon, injuring civilians.
On December 14, unknown assailants assassinated Ashraf Al Kadri, a bodyguard to a Palestinian group leader in Ain el-Hilweh Palestinian camp.
Legislation and Law Enforcement: There were no new laws passed in 2011 exclusively pertaining to terrorism. Lebanon has a Megaports and Container Security Initiative program, and participated in six Export Control and Related Border Security programs. Lebanon also continued to participate in the Department of State's Antiterrorism Assistance program. Lebanon did not have biometric systems in place at points of entry into the country. Lebanese passports were machine readable, and the government was considering the adoption of biometric passports. The Directorate of General Security, under the Ministry of Interior, controls immigration and passports and uses an electronic database to collect biographic data of travelers at all points of entry. The government maintained bilateral agreements for information sharing with Syria. Corruption was a factor influencing all aspects of society, including law enforcement.
In August, nine members of Fatah al-Islam, who had never been officially charged, were released from Roumieh prison after being captured during the 2007 clashes with the LAF at Nahr el-Bared.
In September, Internal Security Forces (ISF) conducted an operation against the kidnappers of the Estonian cyclists, killing two and arresting four suspects of the kidnapping. In November, Syrian caught the alleged kingpin behind the kidnapping who was trying to flee Lebanon and handed him to Lebanese security officials.
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.
Countering Terrorist Finance: Lebanon is a member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force, a Financial Action Task Force-style regional body. 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. The SIC is a member of the Egmont Group. Between December 2010 and October 2011, the SIC investigated 151 allegations of money laundering and terrorist finance activities and sent seven allegations to the Office of the Prosecutor General for prosecution. The ISF received 22 INTERPOL and 49 SIC requests to investigate money laundering and terrorist financing activities but made no subsequent arrests or prosecutions. Although the number of filed suspicious transaction reports and subsequent money laundering investigations coordinated by the SIC steadily increased over the years, prosecutions and convictions were still lacking. The SIC referred requests for designation or asset freezes regarding Hizballah and affiliated groups to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but the Lebanese government did not require banks to freeze these assets, because it does not consider Hizballah a terrorist organization.
The SIC issued a number of circulars amending the regulations on the control of financial and banking operations for countering money laundering and terrorist finance; all deal with exchange institutions and/or transactions with exchange institutions, or the cross-border transportation of cash, metal coins, and bullion. Exchange houses were allegedly used to facilitate money laundering, including by Hizballah. Financial institutions are required to keep records of transactions for five years.
In principle, the Ministry of Interior is responsible for monitoring the finances of all registered Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), but it was inconsistent in the application of its controls, particularly in cases involving politically sensitive groups such as Hizballah. The SIC and the Banking Control Commission (BCC), an independent authority that has oversight over banks and financial institutions, maintained an additional and generally more effective layer of scrutiny for those NGOs that utilize the Lebanese banking system. Although they do not regulate, monitor, or supervise NGOs and non-profit organizations directly, they exercised control over their finances by monitoring their transactions and transfers to and from their accounts. This level of scrutiny only applied to NGOs that utilize the Lebanese banking system; however, several NGOs have acquired non-financial institution licenses from the Central Bank, which also places them under the supervision of the BCC and the SIC.
For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, we refer you to the 2011 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume 2, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes: http://www.state.gov/j/inl/rls/nrcrpt/index.htm.
Regional and International Cooperation: Lebanon continued to voice its commitment to fulfilling relevant United Nations Security Council Resolutions, including 1559, 1680, and 1701. Lebanon is a member of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and subscribes to the OIC's Convention on Combating International Terrorism. In January, Lebanon participated in an OIC conference in Saudi Arabia on the role of the Internet in countering terrorism and extremism. The LAF conducted counterterrorism training exercises with the Jordanian Armed Forces in Jordan.
Countering Radicalization and Violent Extremism: Lebanon worked with donor countries and international organizations to provide development assistance in Palestinian refugee camps and to provide economic and social opportunities to counter extremism in the camps. The LAF expanded public relations campaigns to bolster its presence and counter Hizballah propaganda throughout the country, particularly in southern Lebanon. There were no programs to rehabilitate and/or reintegrate terrorists into mainstream society.