Beirut- The families of nine soldiers taken captive by ISIS in the northeastern town of Arsal in August 2014 were optimistic on Saturday after the Lebanese army arrested a top militant in the border area with Syria.
According to the relatives and sources following up the case of the captives, the arrest of the ISIS commander and several militants on the outskirts of Arsal would lead to major developments.
The Lebanese army said on Friday it had detained Ahmed Youssef Amoun and 10 other terrorists in a special operation in the area of Wadi al-Araneb.
Troops clashed with ISIS militants with different weapons and managed to break into the headquarters where they captured 11 of them, including Amoun, the dangerous terrorist and ISIS emir, said the army in a communique.
The communique said the ISIS commander, who was seriously wounded in the operation, has been involved in preparing car bombs used in attacks in various parts of Lebanon, including the southern suburbs of Beirut.
The army also accused him of involvement in attacks on military posts during the bloody gunbattles in August 2014 when ISIS and al-Nusra Front briefly overran Arsal.
After Amoun’s arrest, the Wadi al-Araneb area witnessed heavy clashes between the Lebanese army and ISIS militants who had taken cover in a Syrian refugee encampment, the state-run National News Agency reported.
But the situation calmed thereafter.
The army’s special operation came days after the families of the captives criticized the authorities over celebrations held on the occasion of Independence Day. They said the ceremonies were being held at a time when the fate of their loved ones was unknown.
The relatives of the soldiers also asked Army chief Gen. Jean Qahwaji “to liberate them in any possible way.”
Informed sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that the arrest of Amoun and the other 10 militants will help locate the captives after reports that they could have been moved to the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa in Syria or the Iraqi city of Mosul.
When the jihadists withdrew from Arsal in August 2014, they abducted 30 soldiers and policemen, five of whom were subsequently executed.
The 16 hostages held by Al-Nusra Front were released in December 2015 after lengthy negotiations, but there has been no progress on the release of the nine held by ISIS.
President Michel Aoun welcomed the army’s arrest of the ISIS emir on Friday, saying such “operations put an end to terrorist plots.”
Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri also congratulated the military on the successful operation.
As for the so-called Hezbollah, it said the arrest is a “confirmation of the army’s essential role in protecting the border and clearing it of terrorists in defense of Lebanon and its people.”