Five suicide bombers attacked Lebanese soldiers patrolling two Syrian refugee camps in the Lebanese town of Arsal, close to the border with Syria on Friday, June 30, and a sixth militant threw a hand grenade at a patrol, according to an army statement.
The Lebanese Army further said seven soldiers were wounded and a refugee girl was killed after two of the suicide bombers blew themselves up in the midst of the refugees.
The raids were part of a major security sweep by the army in an area that has been a flashpoint for violent spillover from the Syria crisis, and tens of Nusra Front and Daesh leaders were among some 350 people detained, according to a Lebanese Army source.
According to the Lebanese defense minister, the army targeted militant sleeper cells, whom, the army says they have taken refuge in the camps.
The area itself hosts some 120,000 refugees divided over multiple camps, while the town of Arsal boasts 30,000 Lebanese citizens. In 2014, the terrain saw violent clashes between the terrorist groups and the Lebanese Army, which ended with the terrorists fleeing to the outskirts and fields of the Arsal area, known as Jrood Arsal (Arabic for empty open fields of Arsal). The clashes also saw the brutal killing of on Lebanese Army General Noureddine Al Jamal, who managed to help his troops escape an attack by Al Nusra terrorist group, before he was killed.
An army source told Newsweek Middle East on Saturday, that the killer of General Al Jamal, a notorious terrorist, was detained in earlier raids.
“His name is Ahmed Khalid Al Deeb and is nicknamed Abu El Seek. He is a Syrian national who is also one of the most dangerous leaders of Al Nusra Front in the area. He has confessed to have taken part in the killing of (then colonel) the army martyr Al Jamal,” the source said on Saturday.
There has been frequent fighting between the army and militants dug into the hills around Arsal in a large pocket of territory straddling the border.
A Lebanese army statement said one suicide bomber had detonated his explosive laden belt in front of an army patrol during a manhunt for suspected militants in a refugee camp in the northeastern border town. Three soldiers were wounded.
The army said four other suicide bombers blew themselves up without causing any injuries among soldiers, while another militant threw a grenade at a patrol, wounding four soldiers.
During the raids an explosive device blew up while a network of explosive devices were discovered and the army explosives experts managed to diffuse them, the army said in its statement that was issued on Friday.
According to the United Nations and the Lebanese government, the country hosts more than 1.5 million registered Syrian refugees – constituting a quarter of its population, while over half a million other refugees await registration in this tiny Mediterranean country.
Non official estimates put the number over 2 million Syrians, if those who cross the borders illegally are counted.
The refugees are scattered across the country in informal tented settlements where many face the risk of arrest due to lack of legal residency.
The manhunt inside the sprawling camps on the border area came after intelligence reports that militants were preparing to stage a series of attacks inside Lebanon.
The camps around the town have long been a haven for militants coming from Syria who have clashed with Lebanese forces conducting security raids searching for suspects hiding among the refugees.
According to army sources, the raids managed to spare Lebanon a series of suicide attacks and explosions from “Zahleh in the Beqaa district all the way to the Capital Beirut.”
A number of attacks in Lebanon in recent years have been linked to the war in Syria.