Lebanese authorities have arrested members of a “terrorist” militant group which recruited Palestinian youths to carry out bombings, they said on Wednesday.
Security forces also thwarted three bombings being planned by the ISIS-linked group targeting Shiite places of worship in Beirut's southern suburbs, said Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi.
“Today, we arrested a terrorist takfiri network of Palestinian nationals that recruits young people to carry out major operations with explosive belts and missiles that could have caused many casualties,” Mr Mawlawi told the state NNA news agency.
The interior minister said the network was affiliated with ISIS and that the planned attacks, near the capital Beirut, involved gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades as well as suicide vests.
Mr Mawlawi said he considered “the Internal Security Forces as the heroes of this operation,” stressing “the importance of these forces because they provide security for the Lebanese".
The last major bombing attack in Lebanon took place in 2015, when 43 people were killed and 239 injured in the twin blasts which targeted the Hezbollah stronghold and Shiite-majority district of Burj Al Barajneh.
ISIS had claimed responsibility for the attack on social media, saying the first bomber had parked an explosives-laden motorcycle in the neighbourhood and a second bomber detonated his suicide vest in the gathering that arrived after the first attack.
There is concern that Lebanon’s severe economic crisis is driving young men, particularly in the impoverished north, to join ISIS. Dozens of young Lebanese men have disappeared in northern Lebanon recently and later turned up in Iraq, where they joined ISIS. Several Lebanese were among suspected militants killed by Iraqi security forces over the past few weeks.
Mr Mawlawi praised Lebanon’s police commander, Maj Gen Imad Osman, saying he was a main force in thwarting the attacks.
The announcement came a week after an investigative judge sued Maj Gen Osman, accusing him of preventing security forces from bringing in for questioning the central bank governor who stands accused of corruption. He is not expected to show up for questioning.
“This is a message to reassure the Lebanese that security forces are always on alert to protect them,” Mr Mawlawi told reporters.