After announcing the capture of 10 Palestinians on suspicion of running a terrorist network in Beirut, the Lebanese government is holding back a lot more than it has revealed.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s counter-terrorism sources uncover the three key pieces of information still withheld on the organization they uncovered:
Its all-Palestinian membership, made up of dwellers of the southern Lebanese Ein al-Hilweh and Beirut refugee camps.
The role of al Qaeda operatives based in southern Lebanon as the network’s organizers and directors. This would confirm reports that Palestinians, some from the refugee camps, have been recruited by Osama bin Laden‘s group and Hizballah to cross into Iraq via Syria and fight in the ranks of anti-US insurgents.
That the Italian embassy in Beirut was never the target, as Lebanese officials stated after capturing the 10 suspects. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources have learned that the terrorists’ real targets were the British and Australian embassies. They had also begun gathering intelligence on the Japanese embassy.
Eight of the 10 detainees live in Ein Hilweh. They are members of a breakaway Fatah group led and financed by Iranian Revolutionary Guard officers and al Qaeda operatives that was originally based in the southern Lebanese port of Sidon. The other two detainees are Palestinian women employed for preliminary surveillance missions. Both are married to Lebanese nationals and live in Beirut.
The Lebanese security authorities assumed the Italian embassy was their target because some of the network’s members also took part in the November 12, 2003 bombing that killed 18 Italian carbinieri and eight Iraqis in the southern Iraqi city of Nasariya.
But interrogations brought out a different set of facts. The plotters had Beirut hideouts prepared in advance. They had acquired a large number of LAW anti-tank missiles for flattening the sentry posits outside the British and Australian embassies and hitting the buildings inside the compounds. After that, the terrorists would have driven bomb cars in and blown the embassies up, much in the way they destroyed the Italian Nasariya base a year ago: a Palestinian driving a heavy truck smashed through the outer gate of the Italian base and, when the surprised carbinieri gathered round the interloper, an explosives-laden car slipped in and blew them to bits.