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Saudi jihadist held in Lebanon in poor health: medical official ‘Beirut Qaeda leader raised funds for anti-Assad militants’

BEIRUT, Jan 3, (Agencies): An al-Qaeda-linked Saudi suspect detained in Lebanon is being held in a military hospital because “he is in poor health”, a medical official told AFP Friday. Meanwhile, the army confirmed Majid al-Majid’s identity “after a DNA test,” a statement said. A second official familiar with the case said Majid’s interrogation “has been delayed because he is in poor health” and that he is being heavily guarded at the Baabda military hospital near Beirut. The doctor who had been treating Majid before his arrest without knowing who he was said he suffers from kidney failure and requires regular dialysis. “On Dec 26, the hospital where Majid was being treated contacted the Red Cross to arrange his transfer to another hospital,” said the source. But before the suspect arrived at the second facility, “the Lebanese army intelligence intercepted the ambulance and arrested Majid,” the source said, adding that neither the hospital nor the ambulance teams had prior knowledge of who Majid was.

Majid is the suspected head of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, which claimed responsibility for an attack in November on the Iranian embassy in Beirut that killed 25 people. Islamist websites say Majid was revealed to be the leader of the Brigades in 2012, which was designated in the United States as a “terrorist organisation” the same year. The group was formed in 2009 and is believed to have branches in both the Arabian Peninsula and Lebanon. The reports come two days after a Lebanese minister told AFP Majid had been arrested by army intelligence. Saudi Arabia has hailed Majid’s detention, and the Iranian embassy in Beirut has requested access to the investigation into the double suicide bombing. The attack on the embassy came amid rising tension in Lebanon over the role of the Tehran-backed Shiite movement Hezbollah in the war in neighbouring Syria. Hezbollah and Iran are allied with the Syrian regime, and Hezbollah has sent fighters to battle the uprising alongside government forces. In claiming the embassy bombing, brigades member Sirajeddin Zreikat warned of more attacks in Lebanon if Hezbollah keeps sending troops to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. In 2009, Lebanon sentenced Majid in absentia to life in prison for belonging to a different extremist group, the al-Qaedainspired Fatah al-Islam.

That attack was part of a spiral of sectarian violence in Lebanon that appears to be a spillover from Syria’s civil war. In the latest incident, a car bomb killed at least five people in a Shi’ite Muslim stronghold in southern Beirut on Thursday. Laith Alkhouri of Flashpoint Partners, a private group which monitors militant websites for business and government clients, said Majid had “been behind a great deal of financing to the jihadists fighting in Syria.” US and European officials say that the most militant Sunni factions fighting Assad’s forces, including the Nusrah Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, both aligned with al-Qaeda, are being financed largely by wealthy families in Saudi Arabia and Gulf states. A US official who declined to be identified said Majid’s arrest was, “at least a temporary setback, but certainly not a death blow, to the Ziad al-Jarrah Battalions, one of the most powerful Sunni terrorist groups in Lebanon.” “Under Majid’s leadership, the group exported a degree of the sectarian carnage of the Syrian civil war to Lebanon by targeting Iranian and Hezbollah interests.

At the same time, this is a faction that has demonstrated its resilience in the past, and Majid’s experienced deputies may well step up to the plate in his absence,” the official said. The Saudi government has made serious efforts to block fundraising for extreme Islamist Syrian rebels, US officials said, but Gulf state governments have been more tolerant. Alkhouri said that over the last two years, fundraisers based in Kuwait, often using Kuwaiti bank accounts, have been active raising funds for anti-Assad forces using social media outlets including Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Skype. In June 2012, Majid issued an audio message in which he criticized the Saudi government for impeding a fundraising campaign several prominent Wahhabi Muslim scholars based in the Gulf had launched in support of Syrian rebels

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