BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanon’s army killed six gunmen and arrested 16 suspected militants, including a commander from the Islamic State group, in a raid in the town of Arsal near the border with Syria on Wednesday, it said.
An army statement said soldiers carried out a special operation against what it called a terrorist cell that was planning to attack army posts and kidnap people in Arsal.
Another army unit stormed an IS-run field hospital in the same area and detained 16 militants, it said, including a man named Ahmad Noun who was described as a “dangerous terrorist”.
A security source said earlier that the army had arrested Abu Bakr al-Raqqawi, a local commander of the Islamic State group, and three high profile insurgents. It was not immediately clear if Raqqawi was Noun’s nom de guerre.
The source said the army had originally detained 27 people but has released 11 who were not related to the cell.
Nusra Front and Islamic State fighters have staged regular incursions into Arsal from the barren hills just outside the town. They overran the town briefly in 2014 before withdrawing to the hills after clashes with the army.
But security sources say that Nusra Front and Islamic State groups continue to have a strong presence in the town, where thousands of Syrian refugees live in dire conditions. They say sometimes the insurgents descend into the town at night to threaten or kill those who oppose them.
Nusra Front freed 16 Lebanese soldiers and policemen in December in exchange for the release of jailed Islamists. It had captured the soldiers during the Arsal incursion in 2014.
Islamic State is believed to still be holding nine soldiers it captured.
Writing by Mariam Karouny; Editing by Tom Heneghan