Lebanon charges 11 Qaeda suspects with spying

Group allegedly planned to spy on army and UN peacekeepers


A Lebanese military investigative judge charged 11 suspected al-Qaeda militants on Wednesday with planning to commit crimes against Lebanese authorities and spying on the Lebanese army and U.N. peacekeepers.

Judge Samih al-Hajj indicted the group of Lebanese, Palestinians and Syrians, six of whom have fled Lebanon and the rest have been detained, on charges that carry a death penalty.

The indictment said the men had "formed an armed gang with the purpose of committing crimes against people ... undermining state authority and prestige, spying on the military and U.N. peacekeepers, and forging passports".

Among those charged -- several of them in absentia -- are Abdul Rahman Awad and Abdul Ghani Jawhar, two members of the al-Qaeda inspired Fatah al-Islam accused of a deadly 2008 bus bombing in the northern city of Tripoli.

Fatah al-Islam fought deadly battles against the Lebanese army in the summer of 2007 in the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared near Tripoli.

The fighting killed 400 people, including 168 soldiers, and displaced some 30,000 refugees from the camp, which was leveled in the fighting won by the Lebanese army.

Six peacekeepers of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UIFIL) were killed by a bombing in south Lebanon in June 2007, while the Nahr al-Bared clashes raged.

Lebanese officials at the time pointed a finger of blame at Fatah al-Islam.

There have been widespread fears since the Nahr al-Bared battle that the group has switched its base to the highly volatile Palestinian camp of Ain al-Hilweh in southern Lebanon.

Lebanese officials suspect that Awad, who is dubbed the "prince of Fatah al-Islam," is holed up in Ain al-Hilweh, the largest of Lebanon's 12 Palestinian camps.