SECURITY forces in Lebanon have arrested Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis) cleric Sheikh Ahmed Al Assir just as he was about to board a plane to Nigeria presumably to link up with Boko Haram terrorists.
On the run for over two years, Sheikh Ahmed Al Assir was caught at Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International Airport on Saturday. Using a forged Palestinian passport, he was seeking to board a plane to Egypt from where he planned to fly to Nigeria.
Lebanon’s general security directorate said Sheikh Al Assir was planning on flying to Nigeria via Cairo. A photo of him issued after his arrest revealed that Sheikh Al Assir had recently adopted a new look, shaving his long, unkempt beard and trading his usual religious robes and headwear for a more inconspicuous jacket and sweater.
Some local news outlets suggested Sheikh Assir had also had plastic surgery to alter his appearance. Sheikh Al Assir became one of the most wanted men in Lebanon after his militia went to battle with the Lebanese army in the port city of Sidon in 2013, resulting in the deaths of 18 soldiers and dozens of his gunmen.
When the war in Syria began emboldening extremist Sunnis in Lebanon and inflaming sectarian tensions here, Sheikh Al Assir swiftly rose from obscurity to become a powerful voice. From his modest Bilal Bin Rabah mosque in the southern city of Sidon, he railed against Hizbollah and later the Lebanese state, accusing them of subjugating Lebanon’s Sunni community.
Sheikh Al Assir was ridiculed by his opponents for his hardline rhetoric and media stunts, such as a 2013 incident in which his followers forced their convoys through Christian-erected roadblocks to reach a ski resort and play in the snow. However, amid a leadership vacuum for Lebanon’s Sunni community and passions against Hizbollah and the state running high, Sheikh Al Assir’s strident tone struck a chord with many disaffected, radical Sunnis in the country.
His movement even attracted Fadl Shaker, a Lebanese-Palestinian rooftop wedding singer turned wildly popular pop star. Initially, Sheikh Al Assir maintained that his movement was peaceful in nature but slowly, the guise of a peaceful movement dripped away.
Soon, the closed-off street where his mosque was located in Sidon’s Abra neighbourhood was teeming with gunmen and the sheikh’s words became more bellicose as he encouraged Lebanese Sunnis to go to Syria and aid the rebels. He spoke about the need to confront Hizbollah, which he called the party of Satan or the Iranian project and accused it of dominating the Lebanese state.
Powered by Facebook Comments