June 9, 2017 / 4:24 PM / 4 months ago

Lebanon's security forces arrest Islamic State-linked cell: statement

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanese authorities have detained seven militants linked to Islamic State, dismantling their network and preventing several mass attacks, Lebanon’s main security agency said on Friday.

The suspects include Yemeni, Palestinian and Syrian nationals, who confessed to planning attacks and suicide bombings against civilians and armed forces, it said.

The operation “deterred the detained terrorists and others who fled from executing their criminal plans on Lebanese soil,” the statement from the General Security directorate said. Authorities also found an explosive belt with one suspect.

The alleged attacks intended to hit different parts of the country, including the Ain el-Hilweh refugee camp, the southern suburbs of Beirut, and the northern city of Tripoli.

“Members of the network received instructions and communicated with their handlers from Lebanon,” mainly from Ain el-Hilweh and from the Burj al-Barajneh area in south Beirut, General Security said.

A security source told Reuters forces arrested the seven suspects at various times last week.

Lebanon has mostly escaped the violence unleashed by the war in neighboring Syria, where the Lebanese Shi‘ite Hezbollah group has been fighting in support of President Bashar al-Assad.

But Islamic State, which controls swathes of territory in neighboring Syria and holds a barren pocket of land near the border, has attacked Lebanon in the past.

In November 2015, it was behind twin suicide bombings that killed more than 40 people in a crowded district of southern Beirut, an area home to many Shi‘ite Muslims.

Lebanese officials have also accused it of carrying out suicide attacks that killed five people and wounded dozens more last summer in a Christian village near the northeast border.

Reporting by Ellen Francis; Editing by Toby Davis

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