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Cablegate: Lebanon: 2009 Country Report On Terrorism

VZCZCXYZ0004
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHLB #1367/01 3650940
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 310940Z DEC 09
FM AMEMBASSY BEIRUT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 6275
INFO RUEILB/NCTC WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS BEIRUT 001367

SIPDIS

S/CT FOR RHONDA SHORE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PTER ASEC EFIN KCRM KHLS PINS PREL AEMR LE SY
SUBJECT: LEBANON: 2009 COUNTRY REPORT ON TERRORISM

REF: A. STATE 109980
B. STATE 122733

1. While the threat of terrorist activity kept Lebanese
security agencies on high alert throughout the year, 2009 was
characterized by increased governmental efforts to disrupt
suspected terror cells before they could act. The Lebanese
Armed Forces (LAF), in particular, were credited with the
capture of wanted terrorist fugitives and the containment of
sectarian violence.
2. Several designated terrorist organizations remain active
in Lebanon. Hamas, The Popular Front for the Liberation of
Palestine (PFLP), the Popular Front for the Liberation of
Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), Fatah al-Islam (FAI),
Al-Qaeda in Lebanon, Jund al-Sham, the Ziyad al-Jarrah
Battalions, and several other splinter groups all operate
within Lebanon,s borders. Hizballah, which is a legal entity
and a major political party, is represented in Lebanon's
cabinet and parliament.
3. In 2009, terrorist violence and counterterror activity
included the following incidents:
-- On five separate occasions -- January 8 and 14, February
21, September 11, and October 27 -- Katyusha rockets were
fired from southern Lebanon into Israel. No casualties were
reported from any of the incidents. The Al-Qaeda-inspired
Ziyad al-Jarrah Battalions claimed responsibility for several
of the attacks.

-- On March 24, the Internal Security Forces (ISF) defused an
explosive device near the home of former Lebanese President
Amin Gemayel and arrested a Syrian, Youssef Mohammad
al-Mohammed, who is currently imprisoned.

-- On June 17, The Lebanese Army thwarted an attempt to drive
a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device into the Ain
Al-Hilweh refugee camp in Sidon. Hasan Merhi, a FAI member
was arrested in connection with the incident.

-- In July, the Lebanese Army arrested Syrian citizen Mounjed
al-Fahham, believed to be a high-ranking Al-Qaeda leader in
Lebanon, at Beirut International Airport. Investigations
revealed that al-Fahham intended to smuggle FAI spiritual
leader Oussama Chehabi, known as Abou Zahra; FAI leader Abdel
Rahman Awad; and Abdel Ghani Jawhar, wanted for 2008 attacks
against LAF soldiers in Tripoli, out of Lebanon.

-- On August 19, an LAF intelligence unit arrested Lebanese
citizen Wissam Tahbish, reported to be a key member of Jund
al-Sham. Tahbish was the primary suspect in the 1999
assassination of four Lebanese judges in Sidon.

-- On September 17, a Lebanese military court convicted five
Palestinians of armed attacks, including a January 2008
bombing aimed at United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon
(UNIFIL) peacekeepers. The one member in custody was
sentenced to three years of hard labor while four fugitive
members, convicted in absentia, were given life sentences.

4. The June 7, 2009, parliamentary elections, an event widely
considered vulnerable to politically motivated violence,
passed peacefully under the watch of international observers
and a fully deployed LAF. Aside from some polling place
scuffles, the elections were considered peaceful. Saad
Hariri, leader of the Western-oriented March 14 alliance
defeated the March 8 opposition allied with Syria and Iran.
Hariri, who was named prime minister-designate, formed a
national unity government that included Hizballah after
nearly six months of negotiations. The new government
obtained a vote of confidence on December 10.
5. Incoming PM Hariri pronounced that strengthening the LAF
and internal security would be a hallmark of his
administration. General Jean Kahwagi, LAF commander since
2008, has publicly listed counterterrorism, internal
security, and suppression of sectarian violence as his top
priorities. The U.S. government has an active security
assistance program with the LAF as well as with the other
security agencies that includes both training and equipment.
6. LAF commanders stressed that the LAF has strengthened its
surveillance capabilities over the 12 Palestinian camps and
four Syrian-backed Palestinian military bases within its
borders. Nevertheless, a porous border with Syria, weak
internal camp security, and LAF reticence to enter the
Palestinian refugee camps all contribute to fears of another
confrontation with an armed group, similar to the 2007 Nahr
al-Barid conflict. The most widely predicted venue for such a
clash is in Lebanon,s most populous refugee camp, Ain
al-Hilweh, near the southern city of Sidon. The camp is well
known for Hamas-Fatah intra-Palestinian violence and as a
suspected safe haven for fugitive FAI terrorists.
7. UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1559 called for
respecting the sovereignty and political independence of
Lebanon, the end of foreign interference in Lebanon, and the
disarming and disbanding of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese
militias. While the Lebanese government was committed to
fulfilling the provisions of UNSCR 1559, it maintained that
Hizballah,s disarmament should be accomplished through a
National Dialogue rather than by force. The last round of
talks, headed by President Sleiman, occurred in December 2008
and failed to achieve progress on developing a "National
Defense Strategy" to address the disposition of Hizballah,s
weapons. The electoral campaign and lengthy government
formation process prohibited the convocation of the National
Dialogue in 2009, but the new government's ministerial
statement acknowledges the right of the Lebanese "resistance"
(interpreted by many as referring to Hizballah's militia),
along with the army, to recover occupied territory and
confront external aggression.
8. The dismantling of four Palestinian military bases
controlled by Syrian-backed groups remained a concern for the
LAF. The Qousaya Base, which straddles the border with Syria
and allows easy access for fugitives and smugglers, is of
particular concern. Activity in these bases reportedly
remained quiet in 2009, although the LAF can do little more
than monitor their activity without political support to
dismantle them. The new ministerial statement calls for the
elimination of Palestinian weapons outside the refugee camps
and obliges the government to provide security for
Palestinian refugees.
9. Lebanon's border security remained problematic. The
Government of Lebanon still does not exercise control over
parts of the border in the Hizballah-dominated Bekaa Valley,
in addition to the wider problem of Hizballah,s military
presence in the southern suburbs of Beirut and southern
Lebanon. Over the course of the year, conflicting reports
surfaced of weapons smuggling from Syria and Iran to
Hizballah and other militant groups in Lebanon. Reports from
UNIFIL and the LAF said there was no conclusive evidence of
arms smuggling to Hizballah in the UNIFIL area of operations
south of the Litani River. UNIFIL and the LAF described a
suspected Hizballah arms cache that exploded in July in the
southern village of Khirbet Selim as containing weapons
pre-dating the 2006 war and UNSCR 1701. Nevertheless,
Hizballah officials publically stated that the organization
is now more heavily armed than it was before the 2006 war
with Israel.
10. UNSCR 1701 called upon Lebanon to secure its borders at
all entry points to prevent entry of arms, weapons of mass
destruction, or related material without its consent. In May
2007, the UN Secretary General dispatched a border security
team to Lebanon (the Lebanon Independent Border Assessment
Team or LIBAT) to assess the monitoring of Lebanon,s border
with Syria. In July 2008, a second assessment team (LIBAT
II), responsible for assessing the implementation of the
recommendations of LIBAT I, was sent to Lebanon. The overall
assessment of LIBAT II was that the borders were as
penetrable and insecure as they were in 2007 and that the
rate of implementation of LIBAT I,s recommendations was
insufficient. Due to the acknowledged lack of progress since
2008, no follow-up assessment was made in 2009.
11. In June 2009, then-Prime Minister Fouad Siniora announced
the government's intention to improve border security. In
July, an LAF-headed team produced a comprehensive border
security management plan, for which the UN Special
Coordinator on Lebanon (UNSCOL) is coordinating further
technical evaluation with donor assistance. The Lebanese
security agencies lack strong interagency cooperation, so
progress on implementing the integrated border management
plan moved slowly. Some gains were achieved on port security
through better radiological screening of incoming shipping
containers, and upgraded customs inspection stations on the
eastern border improved border inspections.
12. The Special Tribunal for Lebanon, based in The Hague, on
March 1 replaced the UN International Independent
Investigation Commission (UNIIIC) as the body charged with
the prosecution of persons responsible for the assassination
of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and other Lebanese public
figures, many critical of Syrian interference in Lebanon.
All of these attacks remained unsolved at year's end.
13. Two international conventions supported by the USG
remained pending approval. The International Convention on
the Suppression of Terrorist Bombing was sent back to the
parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee for further study,
and the International Convention for the Suppression of the
Financing of Terrorism was not submitted by the Foreign
Ministry for cabinet approval due to reservations by the
Finance Ministry.
14. Lebanon hosted the 2009 Middle East and North Africa
Financial Action Task Force (MENA-FATF) and played a
leadership role in the US-MENA Private Sector Dialogue.
Lebanon's financial intelligence unit is the Special
Investigation Commission (SIC), an independent legal entity
empowered to investigate suspicious financial transactions,
lift banking secrecy, and freeze assets. It investigated 116
cases involving allegations of money laundering, terrorism,
and terrorist financing activities. The SIC referred requests
for designation or asset freezes regarding Hizballah and
groups affiliated with Hizballah to the Ministry of Foreign
Affairs, but the Lebanese government does not require banks
to freeze these assets because it does not consider Hizballah
a terrorist organization.
15. Lebanese authorities maintained that the amnesty for
Lebanese individuals involved in acts of violence during the
1975-90 civil wars prevented the government from prosecuting
terrorist cases of concern to the United States. These cases
included individuals involved in the 1985 hijacking of TWA
Flight 847, during which a U.S. Navy diver was murdered; the
bombings of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut in 1983 and 1984; and
the abduction, torture, and murder of U.S. hostages in
Lebanon from 1984 to 1991. Mohammad Ali Hamadi, convicted in
a West German court in 1987 of air piracy, murder, and
possession of explosives for his part in the TWA hijacking
spent 18 years in a German prison before he was paroled in
December 2005 and was believed to be in Lebanon. The United
States continued its efforts to bring him to trial before a
U.S. court and has formally requested his extradition. The
United States does not have an extradition treaty with
Lebanon.
16. Michael Brennan is the Embassy point of contact for this
report. E-mail: BrennanMF@state.gov, tel.: 961-542600.
SISON

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