Exclusive footage: Lebanese cleric turned mosque into military base

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Firebrand Lebanese Sunni cleric Ahmed al-Assir has turned his mosque into a military base, exclusive Al Arabiya footage shows.

The Lebanese army took control of Abra, an area which is home to the Bilal bin Rabah mosque where Assir leads Friday prayers, after fighting on Monday that killed 17 soldiers and 50 Assir loyalists in the southern city of Sidon, a Lebanese military source said.

The footage shows the mosque was used to store weapons and ammunition, including hidden stashes discovered by the army.

Barrels filled with sand placed at the entrance of the mosque and around its circumference made it look like a military barricade.

The whereabouts of the cleric are unknown.

“The battle has ended after the army took full control over the area and after the escape of” Assir, a military source told Al Arabiya.

Meanwhile, military sources told Al Arabiya on Tuesday that about 110 Assir loyalists were arrested. The military is also combing areas that his followers are known to frequent.

Those whom the military is looking for include Fadel Shaker, a famous former singer who became an Islamist.

Shaker told Lebanon’s Jadeed TV that the “oppressed” Syrian people need support, and that the opposition Free Syrian Army should be given financial aid and weaponry.

Assir and his followers have expressed disdain over Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah’s backing of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The conflict between the Sunni-led Syrian opposition and the regime, whose Alawite faith is an offshoot of Shiite Islam, has heightened sectarian tensions in Lebanon.

The fighting in Abra began on Sunday when Assir loyalists instigated violence, the Lebanese army said in a statement.

The controversial Sunni sheikh called on his supporters last week to fire on apartments in Abra that he says house Hezbollah members.

Assir believes that the apartments are used to keep him under surveillance.

His supporters clashed with Hezbollah in Abra last week, leaving one man dead.

Assir has risen to prominence in the last two years over his opposition to Hezbollah and the Assad regime.

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