Fatah al-Islam 'al-Qaeda branch'

Lebanese army chief's remark comes as US puts the group on its terrorism blacklist.

    Suleiman estimates the number of fighters still holed up inside the Nahr al-Bared camp at around 70 [AFP]

    "This organisation is not the creation of Syrian intelligence, nor it is supported by pro-government Lebanese groups."

     

    Anti-Syrian Lebanese government officials have accused Damascus of being behind the group in an attempt to destabilise Lebanon following its forced withdrawal from the country in 2005.

     

    Some government opponents, however, have accused pro-government groups of supporting the Sunni group, allegedly to counter the Shia Hezbollah group's influence in Lebanon.

     

    US action

     

    Suleiman's comments came as the US state department announced that Fatah Islam had been added to a US international terrorism blacklist under an executive order.

     

    The step cuts off Fatah al-Islam from the US financial system and freezes any assets it or its members may have in the US or under US jurisdiction, the department said in a statement.

     

    Speaking to a group of army officers, Suleiman said that the group was a "highly trained military organisation" armed with the most modern and sophisticated weapons.

     

    He said the Lebanese army was advancing slowly inside the refugee camp to spare the civilians.

     

    Suleiman estimated the number of fighters still holed up in the camp to be around 70, accompanied by some 100 women and children believed to be relatives.

     

    When the fighting broke out in May, the number of Fatah al-Islam fighters was estimated at 360.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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