Open

Coming up

Don't miss

Replay


LATEST SHOWS

AFRICA NEWS

A landslide victory for the 'invisible candidate' in Algeria's Presidential polls

Read more

THE WORLD THIS WEEK

The World This Week - 18 April 2014

Read more

THE WORLD THIS WEEK

The World This Week - 18 April 2014 (part 2)

Read more

MEDIAWATCH

Presidential adviser resigns over "shoe-shine scandal"

Read more

#THE 51%

Breaking stereotypes

Read more

#TECH 24

Galaxy S5 v. HTC One (M8): Which is the right one for you?

Read more

FRANCE IN FOCUS

New PM Manuel Valls outlines priorities

Read more

FASHION

Jean-Marc Loubier, bags and shoes.

Read more

ENCORE!

Hip-hop musician Beat Assailant on mixing the sounds of the city

Read more

  • Freed French journalists arrive home after Syria ordeal

    Read more

  • French journalist tells of release from captivity in Syria

    Read more

  • Divers begin pulling bodies from sunken South Korean ferry

    Read more

  • Scores killed in South Sudan cattle raid

    Read more

  • PSG clinch fourth League Cup title after beating Lyon

    Read more

  • Le Pen’s National Front fail to woo Britain’s Eurosceptics

    Read more

  • In pictures: French kite festival takes flight

    Read more

  • VIDEO: Anti-Semitic leaflets in Eastern Ukraine condemned

    Read more

  • In pictures: Good Friday celebrated across the globe

    Read more

  • Bouteflika, the ghost president

    Read more

  • Does Valls’ upcoming Vatican trip violate French secularism?

    Read more

  • Ukraine separatists say ‘not bound’ by Geneva deal

    Read more

  • Abel Ferrara’s hotly awaited DSK film to premiere on web

    Read more

  • Obama signs bill to block controversial Iran diplomat from UN post

    Read more

  • Ukraine: ‘One bloody incident could scupper Geneva deal’

    Read more

  • Astronomers discover Earth-like planet that could support life

    Read more

  • Indian election: Votes for sale

    Read more

  • World honours Garcia Marquez’s magical literary legacy

    Read more

  • In pictures: Iranian woman pardons son’s killer at the gallows

    Read more

  • Algeria's ailing Bouteflika clinches fourth term amid fraud claims

    Read more

  • Top Hollande adviser resigns over conflict of interest accusation

    Read more

  • West African Ebola outbreak caused by new strain of virus

    Read more

Middle east

Lebanon launches manhunt for radical Salafist cleric

© AFP

Video by Selim EL MEDDEB

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2013-06-25

Lebanese troops launched a manhunt Tuesday for radical Salafist cleric Ahmad al-Assir, whose supporters fought security forces in two days of clashes that left at least 17 soldiers dead near Sidon, Lebanon’s third-largest city.

Lebanese security forces launched a manhunt for radical Sunni cleric Ahmad al-Assir on Tuesday, after clashes with his supporters in the southern city of Sidon killed 17 soldiers.

Troops consolidated their grip on the port city after overrunning the cleric's headquarters late on Monday but Assir himself remained at large.

Soldiers evacuated civilians trapped in their homes since the fighting began on Sunday afternoon, and blew up explosives abandoned by Assir's supporters as they fled.

The 24 hours of clashes were the worst to hit Lebanon since the beginning of the conflict in neighbouring Syria, which has inflamed sectarian tensions in Lebanon, sparking sporadic fighting.

A day of mourning was announced for the 17 soldiers killed in the fighting, and the government held a moment of silence.

Speculation was rife as to the whereabouts of Assir, the radical cleric known for his opposition to Lebanon's powerful Shiite Hezbollah movement, and his antagonism to the army.

A day earlier, the Lebanese judiciary issued warrants for the arrest of Assir and 123 of his followers, and on Tuesday, Lebanon's military and security bodies were mobilised to search for him, a security source said.

"There are several hypotheses on his whereabouts," the source said.

"Some say he is disguised as a woman and that he has travelled to Tripoli (in northern Lebanon). Others say he may have fled to Syria."

"It is also possible he is hiding in Ain al-Helweh," he added, referring to a Palestinian refugee camp in Sidon.

A military source said the army had arrested "dozens of people suspected of loyalty" to Assir as they captured his headquarters on Monday night.

Residents of the area expressed relief at the military operation that ousted the cleric from the district.

"I used to pray with him at the mosque when there was no distinction between us, but when his sermons started to get more inflammatory, I stopped," said Naji Jaber, a Shiite resident married to a Sunni woman.

"I thank God that we're rid of him," he added.

"Even in the (1975-90) civil war, the atmosphere in Sidon wasn't as bad as what Assir created," he said.

Sunnis too expressed support for the operation against the radical cleric.

"As Sunnis, we had to stay quiet," 26-year-old Mohammed said.

"But we regret that there is something like that among us."

Inside Assir's headquarters complex, which includes a mosque, several office buildings and apartment blocks, weapons, including rocket launchers and machineguns, lay abandoned.

"It looks more like a security headquarters than a mosque," Interior Minister Marwan Charbel told reporters, adding that several Assir supporters detained by security forces were non-Lebanese.

The fighting, which centred in Abra on the eastern outskirts of Sidon, began on Sunday evening, when Assir's supporters opened fire on an army checkpoint.

The clashes quickly spread, with his supporters and the army exchanging gun and mortar fire, terrifying local residents.

A medical source said more than 100 civilians were wounded, along with more than 50 military personnel.

The fighting was condemned by figures across Lebanon's political spectrum, including Sunni leaders who distanced themselves from Assir.

The controversial cleric was virtually unknown until the beginning of the Syrian conflict, but gained prominence for his criticism of Hezbollah and its support for the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

He slammed the group for sending fighters to Syria to battle the Sunni-led uprising, and encouraged his own followers to join the rebels.

Last week, Assir's supporters clashed with Hezbollah backers in the Abra neighbourhood, in fighting that left one civilian dead.

Sunni leaders on Monday urged the army to work "fairly and thoroughly" to disarm all armed groups in Lebanon, including Hezbollah.

The law "needs to apply to all Lebanese equally. The state's institutions are responsible for all Lebanese... without distinction," they said.

(AFP)

 

Date created : 2013-06-25

  • LEBANON

    Lebanese army seizes Salafist base near Sidon

    Read more

  • LEBANON

    Sidon: Lebanon's new hotbed of Sunni-Shiite tension

    Read more

  • SYRIA

    The Salafist preacher who declared war on Hezbollah

    Read more

Comments

COMMENT(S)