Beirut, May 15 (Reuters): Lebanon has arrested nine people plotting an attack on the US embassy and kidnappings to try to force the release of Islamic militant prisoners, military intelligence officials said today.
News of the arrests came three days after suicide bombings on foreigners’ housing compounds in Saudi Arabia killed at least 34 people, including seven Americans, the first major attack on US targets since the war in Iraq.
The Lebanese army said that it and Syrian military intelligence had detained members of a cell planning “sabotage and attacks on various targets, the most important being the embassy of a major Western state, security and military outposts and kidnappings of officials” to bargain for the detainees’ release.
The army statement did not identify the embassy or the people allegedly targeted for abduction, but military intelligence sources said the heavily fortified US embassy compound in Beirut was the target.
They said the military targets were Lebanese and Syrian installations in the country, and that the alleged plotters had also planned to kidnap Lebanese officials to free men jailed over an Islamist uprising in northern Lebanon in 2000.
“They had not got as far as picking names, but it seems they were considering a minister,” said one intelligence official, who said the detainees included at least two Palestinians.
Officials had initially said the detainees were all Lebanese.
A judicial source said some of the detainees, who were arrested over several days beginning last week, had been named previously as members of other terrorist networks in Lebanon.
The US embassy declined to comment on the arrests.
It also declined comment last week when the army said it had arrested suspects in bomb attacks on Western fast-food restaurants and accused them of also planning to kill the US ambassador during a visit to north Lebanon.
Anti-US sentiment in Lebanon has long been high over the US backing of Israel, which invaded Lebanon in 1982. It surged after the US-led invasion of Iraq, which saw an increase in the number of attacks on Western targets.