07/19/2007, 00.00
LEBANON – SYRIA

New charges against Syria, Fatah al-Islam’s real master

The day that the Lebanese army announces its final takeover of the terrorist headquarters in Nahr al-Bared, reports are published based on a captured leader’s testimony that claim that the group itself is a Syrian creation. Former Syrian vice-president makes similar allegations.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – The Lebanese army announced today that it took control of the Fatah al-Islam’s headquarters at the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp. The news come on the same day that various sources quote an alleged Fatah al-Islam leader accusing Syria and the head of Syria's intelligence apparatus, Major General Assef Shawkat (who is Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s brother-in-law) for their alleged links to the terrorist group. Their support is said to be part of a plan to undermine Lebanon’s fragile democracy.

Ahmed Merie, a Lebanese citizen arrested in late May at a Beirut hotel, made these charges, saying that four Fatah al-Islam members gunned down Lebanese lawmaker Pierre Gemayel last November 21, this according to the dailies al-Moustaqbal and al-Sharq al-Awsat.

Mr Gemayel, leader of the predominantly Maronite Lebanese Forces, was the country’s Industry minister and a key leader in the ruling anti-Syrian majority in parliament.

Merie is also said to have identified the four people who carried out the assassination but their names were not disclosed.

He also said that he was the "liaison officer" between Fatah al-Islam's leader Shaker Abssi and Shawkat.

Shawkat, according to Merie's testimony, provided Fatah al-Islam with a "highly qualified explosives expert who trained members of the group on bomb making.” He also provided the group with "significant support," the nature of which was not reported.

Merie and his brother, Mohammed, also testified in separate sessions that Fatah al-Islam had planned to carry out bomb attacks against several targets in Lebanon, including two Beirut hotels frequented by personnel of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) in addition to some embassies and UN offices.

Former Syrian Vice-President Abdel Halim Khaddam also talked about links between Fatah al-Islam and Syria’s secret services. Mr Khaddam, who now lives in exile, said that the group was created by the Syrian military services.

In a statement the former vice-president said that there are proofs of Syrian involvement in exacerbating Lebanon’s tensions. In a press conference, he wondered “where Fatah al-Islam got all its explosives and weapons, some of which are not even available to the Lebanese army.” The answer is the Syrian regime.

Khaddam also pointed out threats made by Syrian President Assad and other Syrian leaders who said that Lebanon would blow up if an international tribunal was set up to sit in judgment of those responsible for the assassination of ex-Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

In fact the UN probe into the attack had already suggested a possible involvement by Asef Shawkat. This possibility explains why the Syrian regime’s opposition to the tribunal is so strong.

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