Investigations into the explosion that rocked Beirut on Tuesday continue in great secrecy, with a tight lid being kept on their findings so far. However, officials confirmed that serious leads are being pursued in the attempt to identify the perpetrators.
Meanwhile, reports circulating in security and political circles hold that the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had informed the Lebanese authorities of large quantities of explosives brought into Lebanon by an al-Qaeda-linked group.
Well-placed security and political sources said that the American tip came at the beginning of last week, when the chief of the CIA station in Beirut, to the surprise of the main Lebanese security services (e.g. Army Intelligence, Information Branch, and General Security), handed the latter reports containing extremely sensitive information.
In the first report, the American side claimed to have credible information that an al-Qaeda-linked group rigged two large trucks with up to seven tons of explosives each for detonation in Dahiyeh. The sources said that the CIA supplied additional information on the masterminds behind the plot, which involves suicide bombers and the attack being given the green light by an al-Qaeda-affiliated group operating in Syria.
The second report is no less grave than the first. According to intelligence obtained by the CIA, another group with ties to al-Qaeda brought around 2,000 kg of explosives into Lebanon to use them in attacks against the Lebanese army, Hezbollah, and the Saudi and Kuwaiti ambassadors in Beirut, and possibly diplomats from Russia and China.
The third report contains detailed information on the group responsible for firing rockets from inside Syrian territory toward the Baalbeck area. The US report identified the leader of this group by name, and also provided other data, including his phone numbers.
Upon checking this information, it emerged that the person named by the US report is a Syrian national who leads an armed battalion in the western Damascus countryside, and who had previously been active in North Lebanon. According to the same report, this militant leader is seeking to obtain 500 rockets for use against the city of Baalbeck and its surroundings.
A meeting was held last Thursday at Baabda palace to discuss the reports. The meeting was chaired by President Michel Suleiman, and attended by caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati; Defense Minister Fayez Ghosn; Interior Minister Marwan Charbel; Telecom Minister Nicolas Sehnaoui; Director-General of State Security George Qaraa; Director of Army Intelligence Edmond Fadel; acting director general of the Internal Security Forces Ibrahim Basbous; Head of Information Imad Othman; and the president’s military adviser Abdul-Muttalib al-Henawi.
Interestingly, the senior security leaders chose not to share all the information in their possession with the political leaders, focusing instead on the need to obtain communication data from the telecom ministry. There were also calls at the meeting for banning the use of mobile phones by prisoners being held in Roumieh.
This request came after security services intercepted calls between a radical Islamic prisoner (likely from a Gulf country) and another yet unknown individual, mentioning a seven-ton explosive charge, without discussing its source or destination. The security services could not record these conversations in full, as part of them took place though sophisticated software that the Lebanese agency does not have the ability to process.
However, Interior Minister Marwan Charbel refused to ban mobile phones among the prisoners, saying that such a move would cause riots.
Security officials told Al-Akhbar that the Lebanese authorities are taking the “terrifying” US information very seriously, while the American side pledged to relay any additional information that surfaces. According to security officials, the telecom data will be crucial to investigations, noting that there are several important leads that can only be pursued through this data.
The officials also underscored the need to take urgent measures at Roumieh, if not to ban mobile phones, then at the very least to block Internet services.
Why Has Washington Spoken?
After the US intel was conveyed to the Lebanese side, there were extensive discussions as to why the CIA would supply local security services with information involving plots against Hezbollah.
Security leaders have come to the following conclusions: One, the US intel does not exclusively involve Hezbollah as the target of possible hostilities, but also involves the Lebanese army and diplomats from countries allied to Washington. Two, the fact that the Americans have shared this intel could only mean that Washington remains committed to stability in Lebanon, at least for the foreseeable future.
In the meantime, some security officials are of the opinion that the US also wanted to convey a message to Hezbollah, namely, that Washington has nothing to do with any possible attacks targeting the resistance party, in order to protect its interests in Lebanon and the region against any Hezbollah response to attacks by unknown assailants.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.