BEIRUT, Lebanon, (AP)- Lebanese troops captured the spokesman for Fatah Islam and three other militants early Saturday, about two weeks after the army crushed the al-Qaida-inspired group in a northern Palestinian refugee camp, a military spokesman said.
Since defeating the movement after a three-month-long siege, Lebanese troops have combed areas around the Nahr el-Bared refugee camp for militants who may have escaped during the final desperate breakout attempt on Sept. 2, in which more than 50 militants were killed and two dozen detained.
The spokesman, Abu Salim Taha, was captured in Jabal Terbol, countryside outside Nahr el-Bared and near another Palestinian camp, Beddawi.
A military spokesman, who requested anonymity until an official statement was issued, said Taha was a Palestinian-Syrian from the refugee camp of Yarmouk in Syria, and that three other militants were captured with him.
An army statement later added that the other three men were from Saudi Arabia, Syria and Tunisia and that “an investigation is under way.”
A security official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of intelligence information, said some escaped militants were trying to reach and seek refugee in the southern Palestinian refugee camp of Ein el-Hilweh.
Fatah Islam set up base in Nahr el-Bared late last year. Its leader, Shaker al-Absi, is a Palestinian linked to the late leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Authorities say Fatah Islam is made up of Muslim militants of various nationalities.
The government has said 222 militants were killed in the fighting and more than 200 were arrested, while a total of 167 Lebanese soldiers died. More arrests have been made in recent days as authorities, helped by locals, caught some escapees.
Fatah Islam’s No. 2 leader, Abu Hureira, was killed in a shootout with security forces in Tripoli near Nahr el-Bared more than a month ago — after he mysteriously fled the army’s siege of the camp.
Taha was thought to have been among the dead from the Sept. 2 breakout, and the media had shown pictures of a body purported to be his. They also showed a body alleged to have been al-Absi’s. But the reports were later refuted, and authorities said al-Absi had fled the camp hours before the army took over.
The fighting between the militants and the army, which started May 20, became the worst internal violence since Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war.