Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—Lebanese Defense Minister Fayez Ghosn denied on Wednesday that the country’s security forces had arrested the leader of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, Majid Al-Majid, though other sources maintain that Majid is in custody.
Majid’s group claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing that struck Iran’s embassy in Beirut in November, killing more than 20 people.
Ghosn’s office issued a statement which said he had not made any previous statements to the media regarding the issue, in the wake of reports in international news agencies quoting him as saying Majid was being held by Lebanese military intelligence.
However, Lebanese media sources reported on Tuesday that the Lebanese army had arrested Majid, while US national security sources also confirmed the accuracy of media reports from Lebanon which carried news of the arrest.
Majid is popular among some Lebanese Sunnis. He is known for his stance against the Assad regime and his support of the Syrian uprising.
Lebanese TV channel NBN, which is owned by parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri, said Majid was arrested in the Fayadiyeh area near the Defense Ministry while on his way to Syria.
Reports said Majid had been under surveillance by the Lebanese authorities because he was wanted on terrorism charges in Lebanon and other countries. The LBC channel quoted security sources as saying that Al-Qaeda officials “instructed Al-Majid to meet Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi in Iraq to plan major attacks,” prompting the security forces to move in and arrest him.
Baghdadi is the Iraqi-born chief of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), an Al-Qaeda affiliated terrorist group that has become increasingly prominent in the conflict in neighboring Syria and has also been accused of involvement in the recent surge of violence in Iraq.
Controversial Lebanon-based Salafist preacher Omar Bakri Fustuq said: “Jihadist internet forums have said one of their men was arrested outside a hospital in Beirut without identifying him or referring to the treatment he was receiving,” noting that Lebanese reports said Majid had been arrested on his way to Syria.
Fustuq told Asharq Al-Awsat that Majid “disappeared from the radar and all contact with him was lost,” adding that the media arm of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades would “publish a report soon” confirming this. He said the jihadist groups “had not published denials of his arrest on Twitter after it was announced.”
Fustuq also said that Majid had participated in the Syrian uprising, although his whereabouts were unknown. He added that “information about Majid among jihadists say that he is an outstanding leader, and was a close friend of the previous leader, Saleh Al-Qaraawi.”
The Abdullah Azzam Brigades were named after Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin-Laden’s mentor. The group is reported to have formed in 2004, and carried out attacks in Lebanon and other Middle Eastern countries. It was declared a terrorist group by the US in May 2012.