BEIRUT: A lone gunman who killed an army officer and three Lebanese security personnel in Tripoli had been released from prison on terror charges in mid-2017, Interior Minister Raya Al-Hassan said.
The “lone wolf” attacker, Abdul Rahman Mabsout, struck shortly before midnight on Monday, killing a Lebanese army officer and three Internal Security Forces (ISF) personnel.
Mabsout was known to security and judicial services in Lebanon. He had fought with the Daesh terror group in Syria and was arrested in Lebanon in early 2016 where he was imprisoned for 18 months before being released in mid-2017.
“Lone wolves are a new type of terrorism and security services are doing their best to prevent such attacks,” said Al-Hassan, who went to Tripoli after the incident.
According to Lebanon’s army command, the militant was riding a motorcycle when he opened fire on a Bank of Lebanon branch and an adjacent ISF post, killing one soldier and wounding several others.
He then moved to another area and threw a bomb at an ISF patrol before shooting and killing two security personnel and fleeing.
Security forces chased and exchanged gunshots with the terrorist, who barricaded himself in an apartment after forcing a woman occupant to flee.
The man is believed to have killed himself by detonating an explosive belt when security forces raided the property, though earlier reports said he was killed by a grenade blast as security forces stormed the building.
“Tripoli has prevailed because of coordination between the security and military forces, and thanks to the Lebanese,” Al-Hassan told a press conference.
The four men who died in the attacks were Lt. Hassan Farahat, 29, Pvt. Ibrahim Saleh, 21, Sgt. Johnny Khalil, 26, and Cpl. Yousef Faraj, 36.
Defense Minister Elias Bou Saab said the attack was likely to be part of a wider terrorist plot.
“However, there are still unanswered questions about the attacks,” he said.
Bou Saab linked the incident to benefit cuts imposed on retired soldiers in the 2019 budget. “The army is sacrificing its blood for the homeland and we hope everyone appreciates the value of these sacrifices,” he said.
MP Hikmat Deeb, from the Free Patriotic Movement bloc, said on Twitter that terrorism should not be tolerated, stressing that “amnesty for the killers of security personnel facilitates terrorism.”
“Lone wolves are a new type of terrorism and security services are doing their best to prevent such attacks.”
Raya Al-Hassan, Interior minister
In an interview with Arab News, former Lebanese MP Mustapha Allouch said: “I am surprised that this terrorist could be released from prison. He fought in the ranks of Daesh in Syria, but this incident should not be linked to Islamic detainees because some of them are oppressed.”
He said: “Someone may have encouraged Mabsout to carry out the attacks. Poverty and resentment may have been his motives. Or he may have found that the other world was better than his current life, so he did what he did. We do not know. We have to wait for investigations.”
Allouch described Tripoli as “the weakest link to carry out this attack. I do not think what happened is an accident.”
Tripoli MP Mohammed Kabbara said the incident involved the “direct targeting of Tripoli.”
“Conspiracies want to drain it, distort its image and weaken it. What happened has serious implications, because the perpetrators are people who were deceived by one or more parties in the context of using Tripoli as a mailbox to send bloody messages.”
The US Embassy in Lebanon said that it “stands by the legitimate security institutions in their war on terror.”
More than 1,200 prisoners, including 700 Lebanese, are being held in Roumieh prison on terror-related charges. About 500 detainees have been accused of murder or attempted murder.
For years, families of detainees have been pressuring the Lebanese government to issue a general amnesty or speed up prisoners’ trials and ensure proper humanitarian conditions in the prison.
President Michel Aoun hailed “the lives of the martyrs of the army and ISF” after the Tripoli attack.
“Any tampering with security will receive a quick and decisive response,” he said. “What happened in Tripoli will not affect stability in the country.”
Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri, who is in Saudi Arabia, called Al-Hassan, Army Commander Gen. Joseph Aoun and Director General of the ISF Maj. Gen. Imad Othman following terrorist attack.
According to his press office, Al-Hariri stressed that “all measures that protect the security of Tripoli and its people must be taken and the remnants of terrorism must be uprooted.”