BEIRUT, Lebanon, (AP) -Four Syrian members of a little-known radical group have confessed to carrying out the near simultaneous bombings on buses near Beirut that killed three people and wounded 20 last month, Lebanon’s interior minister said Tuesday.
Hassan Sabei also indirectly accused the Syrian intelligence agency of being involved in the Feb. 13 attack on a mountain road at Ein Alaq, northeast of the capital.
Sabei said four members of the Fatah Islam group had been detained in connection with the attack. Earlier Tuesday, Lebanese security officials speaking on customary condition of anonymity, said that seven members of the group had been detained.
A Fatah Islam spokesman who identified himself as Abu Salim told the Lebanese Broadcasting Corp. that the group was innocent. “It is impossible for us to carry out such an act,” he said.
The blasts, which occurred minutes apart, tore through two buses traveling on a busy commuter road, killing three people and wounding 20. A higher death toll was averted because passengers from the second bus had rushed out to help the victims of the first explosion.
Two attackers placed a bomb on each bus and while one has confessed to have carried the attack, the other is still at large, Sabei said.
Supporters of Lebanon’s pro-Western government have accused Syria of being behind the bus attack, but Damascus denied any connection. The attack has added to the simmering tensions in Lebanon since the Hezbollah-led opposition began demonstrations more than three months ago to topple Prime Minister Fuad Saniora’s government.
The security officials told The Associated Press that the ringleader of the plot was a Syrian, Mustafa Sayour, who had confessed to planting the bombs.
Sabei said the attackers had orders to carry out the attack before Feb. 14 — the second anniversary of the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Many Lebanese also blame that attack on Syria, though Damascus has denied responsibility.
Little is known about Fatah Islam but local media reports said it has dozens of members, mainly in the Palestinian refugee camps in northern Lebanon. The group last year split from the Damascus-based Fatah Uprising, itself a splinter of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s mainstream Fatah group.
But Sabei said Fatah Islam’s split from Fatah Uprising was only a cover. “Everyone knows that Fatah Islam is the same as Fatah Uprising and they are part of the Syrian intelligence security,” the minister said.