Lebanon’s most wanted man held in Syria

September 4th, 2008 - 10:22 pm ICT by IANS  

Beirut, Sep 4 (DPA) Syria informed French President Nicolas Sarkozy that it has arrested Lebanon’s most-wanted terrorist suspect, Fatah al-Islam leader Shaker al-Abassi, the Lebanese website Naharnet said Thursday.It quoted what it called “reliable Syrian sources” as saying that Abassi was in Syrian custody and that contacts were under way between security agencies in Damascus and Beirut to determine whether he be extradited to Lebanon or tried in Syria.

The report came hours after the United Arab Emirates daily al-Bayan quoted a senior official of a pro-Syrian Palestinian faction as saying that Abassi was picked up after illegally entering Syria.

Abassi had fled the northern Lebanese refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared during a crackdown by the Lebanese army last September after troops crushed a Fatah al-Islam rebellion.

The 15-week battle in and around the camp resulted in the deaths of more than 400 people, including 162 troops.

On June 21, 2007, Abassi and 15 other Fatah al-Islam members were charged by Lebanese state prosecutor Saeed Mirza with carrying out bus bombings on Feb 13 that year in the village of Ain-Alaq.

Al-Abassi was also charged with bombing two buses on the eve of a Cedar Revolution rally planned to mark the second anniversary of the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri.

Some Lebanese and Syrian officials have cited links between Fatah al-Islam and Al Qaeda.

In 2004, a Jordanian military court convicted al-Abassi and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in absentia for the 2002 murder of Laurence Foley, a US diplomat who was gunned down in front of his Amman home.

Al-Zarqawi, who later became leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, was killed in a US airstrike north of Baghdad in 2007.

Lebanese Defence Minister Elias Murr has repeatedly said that he wants al-Abassi “dead or alive”.

Sarkozy wound up a two-day visit to Syria Thursday with a four-way summit, including Turkey and Qatar, which aimed at boosting the roles of France and the European Union in Middle East diplomacy.

Sarkozy, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, hopes France and the EU can rank alongside the US as peacemakers, notably between Israel and Syria.

Lebanese officials expressed hopes the visit would help chances of achieving peace in the Middle East region.

France started talks with Syria, after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad announced he was embarking on indirect talks with Israel and eased his stands towards Lebanon, which helped end an 18-month political crisis in the country.

Syria was Lebanon’s power broker until 2005 when Hariri was assassinated. Hariri’s allies and their western backers blamed Syria for the assassination, but Damascus has denied all the charges.

The local and international outcry after Hariri’s assassination led Syria to end its military presence in Lebanon after a 30-year presence.

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