Lebanon’s army arrests two ISIS leaders who fled last Syria stronghold

The men entered Lebanon illegally after abandoning ISIS's last stand in Deir Ezzor

Fighters with the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) stand at a position in the Baghouz area in the eastern Syrian province of Deir Ezzor on February 14, 2019 during an operation to expel hundreds of Islamic State group (IS) jihadists from the region.
 Syrian fighters backed by artillery fire from a US-led coalition battled a fierce jihadist counteroffensive as they pushed to retake a last morsel of territory from the Islamic State group in an assault lasting days. More than four years after the extremists declared a "caliphate" across large parts of Syria and neighbouring Iraq, several offensives have whittled that down to a tiny scrap of land in eastern Syria. / AFP / Delil souleiman
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The Lebanese army on Saturday arrested two ISIS leaders who fled the Syrian province of Deir Ezzor where the group’s last stronghold is under attack from US-backed forces.

The Syrian men, identified as Ahmed Mansour Al Khalaf and Mohamed Khaled Al Hajj, were held in Hermel, north-east Lebanon close to the border with Syria, Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency reported.

Al Khalaf was described as an ISIS emir, the equivalent of a senior commander. The men crossed illegally into Lebanon a few days prior to their arrest. They came from the Syrian town of Deir Ezzor, nearly 500 kilometres east of Hermel.

Soldiers also arrested four other Syrians who entered Lebanon illegally. It was not confirmed if they were ISIS members.

Defeated militants have been trying to escape an offensive led by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, which is clearing ISIS’s last stronghold on the Syrian-Iraqi border.

“In the coming few days, in a very short time, we will spread the good tidings to the world of the military end of Daesh,” the SDF said on Saturday.

ISIS has claimed responsibility for several terrorist attacks in Lebanon in recent years.

In August 2014, ISIS fighters briefly overran the border town of Arsal and killed several Lebanese soldiers.

Three years later, the army kicked out militants hidden in the mountains between Syria and Lebanon with the support of Hezbollah, Lebanon’s powerful Shia movement.

In November 2015, ISIS claimed a double suicide bombing in south Beirut, a Hezbollah stronghold, which killed 43.

In June 2016, five people died in the predominantly Christian village of Qaa when eight suicide bombers blew themselves up. Security officials blamed ISIS ­although the group never claimed responsibility.