Lebanon charges radical Islamist with ‘terrorism’

Assir was Lebanon's best-known fugitive Islamist until his capture on August 15 after more than two years on the run

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Lebanon's military prosecutor charged radical Islamist cleric Ahmad al-Assir with "terrorism" Wednesday over involvement in deadly clashes with the army, a judicial source told AFP.

Assir was Lebanon's best-known fugitive Islamist until his capture on August 15 after more than two years on the run.

He was caught as he tried to flee through Beirut airport en route to Nigeria, using a fake passport and travelling in disguise.

"Assir is accused of having formed an armed group with the goal of committing acts of terrorism, and having killed and tried to kill Lebanese soldiers," the source said.

He also stands accused of having "planned the assassination of a number of political figures from a religious community," the source added, though there was no detail on which community was targeted.

The charges carry a potential death sentence.

Assir is set to appear before a judge for further questioning Thursday.

Prosecutors in 2014 said they were seeking death sentences for him and 53 others, including singer-turned-fundamentalist Fadel Shaker.

The charges were in connection with clashes between Assir's supporters and the army that erupted in the southern city of Sidon on June 24, 2013.

The fighting began after Assir supporters opened fire on a military checkpoint and quickly spread.

Eighteen soldiers were killed, along with 13 armed men, and dozens of civilians were wounded.

Assir was able to escape and went on the run with some of his supporters, occasionally issuing audio messages but largely remaining out of sight.

The radical preacher was virtually unknown politically before the outbreak of Syria's civil war in 2011.

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

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

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

He also grabbed headlines with media stunts, such as taking a group of his followers to the trendy winter ski resort of Faraya in early 2013.

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