Lebanon probing link between bomb factory where 2 died and Syrian war

McClatchy Foreign StaffAugust 5, 2013 

— Lebanese military intelligence is investigating what link an explosion that took the lives of two Egyptian brothers Sunday might have to the civil war in neighboring Syria, according to security officials and the country’s official National News Agency.

Authorities said the two brothers – Abdul Latif and Mohammed Dakhakhini – were killed and a Syrian man identified as Mohammed Hasan Masoud was wounded when a bomb they were building exploded in the village of Daraya in northern Lebanon.

The war in Syria has deeply divided this politically fractured country next door. Lebanon’s most powerful political and military institution, the Shiite Muslim militant group Hezbollah, has infuriated much of the country’s Sunni Muslim population with its open military and political support for the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. At the same time, much of the country has become a haven for anti-Assad rebels.

The CIA warned Lebanese security officials last month that al Qaida-linked rebel factions were planning attacks in Lebanon on Hezbollah, and Syrian rebel groups have threatened to retaliate against Hezbollah for fighting on Assad’s behalf.

Security officials said they’d found additional bombs and a map of potential targets in the home where Sunday’s explosion occurred, which was owned by the dead men’s father, Sheikh Ahmad Dakhakhini. The father, who’s married to a Lebanese woman and has lived in Lebanon for years, is described as a conservative prayer leader at a local mosque, but the village released a statement denying rumors that his dead son Abdul Latif had had a religious role in the town.

“They were building bombs,” said a security official, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to release the details of the investigation. “We found explosives, maps of targets, as well as flags for al Qaida and Nusra,” a reference to the Nusra Front, an anti-Assad, al Qaida-linked rebel group that U.S. officials have designated a terrorist organization.

The official said investigators also had found recordings and pictures of a radical Sunni cleric, Ahmad al Assir, whose mosque complex in Sidon was raided in June by the Lebanese army and units from Hezbollah. Assir has been a fierce critic of Hezbollah for its role in Syria, and the fighting at his mosque ended with dozens of deaths and Assir as a fugitive. Hezbollah fighters said some of the men they’d killed in the assault on Assir’s mosque had been carrying Syrian identification cards.

A series of murky security incidents has left Lebanon’s intelligence services deeply concerned about the role of al Qaida in the country as they attempt to unravel what appear to be tiny networks of angry Sunnis with nebulous links to larger foreign groups. The incidents include a series of rocket attacks that targeted Shiite villages along the border with Syria and in one case a Shiite neighborhood in Beirut, a car bomb that targeted a Shiite neighborhood in June and a rocket attack last week that appeared to target either the presidential palace or the Ministry of Defense, which are next to each other.

“We are still putting together this puzzle,” the security official said.

Prothero is a McClatchy special correspondent. Twitter: @mitchprothero

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