Lebanon arrests fugitive cleric Ahmad al-Assir

Lebanese National News Agency: Ahmad al-Assir was detained at Beirut airport as he was trying to leave country

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Lebanese authorities have detained a hardline Sunni Islamist leader wanted for militant activity, including attacks on the Lebanese army, a senior security official told Reuters on Saturday.

The Lebanese National News Agency reported that Ahmad al-Assir was detained at Beirut airport as he was trying to leave the country.

Read also: Breaking down Ahmad al-Assir: the man behind the beard

Security sources added that Assir was using a fake passport and was trying to fly to Egypt, according to Agence France-Presse.

The firebrand cleric had been on the run since June 2013, after he and his supporters engaged in a deadly two-day battle with the Lebanese army in the southern city of Sidon.

The army seized his headquarters after 48 hours of clashes that killed 18 soldiers, but Assir was able to escape with several of his followers.

He continued to issue audio statements while on the run, and various rumors circulated as to where in Lebanon he was hiding.

In 2014, a military judge recommended prosecutors seek death sentences for Assir and 53 others, including singer-turned-fundamentalist Fadel Shaker.

He and his associates were accused of "having formed armed groups that attacked an institution of the state, the army, killed officers and soldiers, took explosive materials and light and heavy weapons and used them against the army."

Assir was a virtual political unknown until the outbreak of Syria's civil war.

He began making headlines after the conflict erupted by criticizing Lebanon's powerful Hezbollah movement and its ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Although he was born to a Shiite Muslim mother, his discourse was highly sectarian and he often accused Lebanon's army of failing to protect Sunnis and being beholden to Hezbollah.

He encouraged his supporters to join Syria's mainly Sunni rebels and to rise up against Hezbollah.

(AFP and Reuters)

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