Terrorist Sami al-Atrash’s death passes without major backlash

Two boys walk down an unpaved road in the village of Ersal. (Photo: Marwan Tahtah)
Published Friday, March 28, 2014
Sami al-Atrash, one of the most dangerous wanted fugitives, has died during a Lebanese army raid in Ersal. His death has caused little uproar compared to the major unrest sparked by the death of Sheikh Khaled al-Hammid at the hands of the army in February 2013. Something must have drastically changed in Ersal.
Sami al-Atrash has been killed. The young Ersali man, who is also known as al-Karrouj, was fatally shot as the army raided a home in Ersal where he was hiding on Thursday.
The news of the raid passed quietly. No angry, political, or even religious reactions were generated. The news of Atrash’s death passed as though nothing happened, with the exception of some tension in the town following the shootout that accompanied the raid.
Although a statement by the Lebanese army said that Atrash had been killed during an exchange of gunfire with the suspect, close associates of the deceased man claimed that he was executed although he displayed no resistance – a claim often made following each raid by the Lebanese army.
People in the town told Al-Akhbar that Atrash was a resident of Masharee al-Qaa and was not known in Ersal, and that he had moved to the town after the start of the crisis in Syria where he worked in smuggling and dealing in arms.
According to information obtained exclusively by Al-Akhbar from sources close to Atrash’s cell, the man was recently taking precautions in his movements, avoiding appearing in the town except when absolutely necessary. Atrash, according to sources, was recently based between Flita and the wilderness surrounding Ersal.

The sources said that the raid took place following a tip from an informant in Ersal. The army reportedly also arrested three members of the same family, named as Ali, Nasser, and Mohammed Izz al-Din, nearly half an hour before the raid on Sami al-Atrash’s hideout.

In this regard, a security source revealed that the security services detected suspicious movements by Atrash and his cell in the town ten days ago. The security services proceeded to prepare an ambush for the suspects, but Atrash discovered it on Thursday afternoon, and went into hiding in a house in the area.
As the army raided the house in question, Atrash and his men opened fire at the soldiers. A firefight ensued, and Atrash was shot in the chest. He later died of his wounds at the Dar al-Amal Hospital. The security source said that the raid also led to the arrest of four Lebanese and eight Syrian suspects, pointing out that Atrash was one of the most dangerous fugitives wanted by the security services.
Sami al-Atrash’s name entered the world of terrorism less than a year ago, alongside several individuals from his village in the Bekaa Valley. This happened when then-Defense Minister Fayez Ghosn issued his famous statement, disclosing information about the group led by Ibrahim Qasim al-Atrash, which was involved in preparing and carrying out car-bomb attacks.
Sami was a member of the group led by Omar, who was killed on October 11, 2013, along with Samer Houjeiri, when an explosive-rigged car they were driving near Ersal was attacked. Sami, Omar, and five other individuals were named as suspects involved in preparing car bombs to detonate them in Beirut’s southern suburb. But some in Ersal deny these accusations and say they are fabricated by the security services.
According to the information available to the security services, the suspects are commanded by Ibrahim al-Atrash, a man in his fifties with close to ties with al-Nusra Front and the Abdullah Azzam Brigades in Greater Syria. The same information indicates that Sami al-Atrash was a major field operative, and that the most dangerous members of the cell were Ibrahim al-Atrash and Sameh al-Baridi.
In addition to these names, another prominent suspect is Ubada al-Houjeiri, son of Sheikh Mustafa Houjeiri. The young man, according to security reports, is involved in the murder of two army officers in February 2013, and the four men killed in the Wadi Rafeq ambush.
Ubada was named as a suspect in the kidnapping of journalists, most recently a Danish and a Palestinian reporter who were released for a ransom of $400 thousand. Bear in mind that the officers of the Information Branch delivered the ransom to Mustafa, the kidnapper’s father, who acted as a mediator.
It may be worth noting that Mustafa Houjeiri, despite rumors that he had left Ersal to the wilderness areas surrounding it with the army’s entry to the town, has been spotted in Ersal, and was seen praying in the mosque where he used to deliver sermons.
After Omar Ahmed al-Atrash and Hussein Ammoun, Sami al-Atrash has now been killed. Before him, his cousin Omar Ibrahim al-Atrash was arrested on charges of transporting suicide bombers, followed by the arrest of Naim Abbas, one of the major terrorist operatives involved in the preparation of car bombs.
The members of the group that the Defense Ministry said were involved in the bombings in Dahiyeh and the northern Bekaa are falling one by one. The security services confirm that these suspects are the most dangerous in the terrorist underworld, but the suspects, or at least a majority of them, deny the charges made against them, including the leader of the group Ibrahim al-Atrash, who only admitted to one charge before the courts, namely, fighting the Syrian regime inside Syria.
Officially, the members of the group named earlier stand accused of “preparing explosive-rigged cars; firing rockets and mortars at Lebanese towns and villages; holding citizens hostage; taking part in the murder of four civilians in Wadi Rafeq in June 2013; murdering soldiers in the Hammid Valley; and planning to kill an officer using an explosive device.”
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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