BEIRUT, Lebanon, (AP) – A suspected senior commander of the Fatah Islam militant group was captured by Palestinian refugees and turned over to the Lebanese military Monday after he spent weeks in hiding, an official said.
Nasser Ismail was among a number of militant leaders who fled the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr el-Bared before Lebanese troops overran it earlier this month, ending a fierce three-month battle with Fatah Islam fighters barricaded inside.
Ismail appeared to be suffering from exhaustion from weeks of hiding in nearby forests when he was overpowered by Palestinian refugees as he tried to sneak into the Beddawi camp along with an aide, a senior military official said.
The refugees handed Ismail and the aide over to Lebanese troops, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with military regulations. Ismail, a Palestinian, is believed to be a top military commander of Fatah Islam, the official said.
The army has been coming areas around Nahr el-Bared camp for militants who may have escaped during a final desperate breakout attempt on Sept. 2, when more than 50 fighters were killed and two dozen detained.
Fatah Islam’s spokesman, Abu Salim Taha, was captured in the countryside outside Nahr el-Bared near Beddawi last month. It’s deputy commander, Abu Hureira, was killed in a shootout with security forces in August after he fled the army’s siege of the camp.
But the group’s leader, Shaker al-Absi, is still at large. Authorities say he is believed to have fled the camp hours before the army took over.
Fatah Islam, a group made up of Muslim militants of various nationalities, set up base in Nahr el-Bared late last year. The government has said about 222 of its militants were killed in the fighting and more than 200 were arrested, while a total of 168 Lebanese soldiers died.
The camp’s estimated 30,000 residents fled in the first week of fighting, most of them to the nearby Beddawi camp.