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Members of Beirut ISIS’ cell groomed in Paris

THE LEVANT NEWS — BY Yousef Diab and Marc Abizeid for The Daily Star — BEIRUT: A number of suspected would-be suicide bombers rounded up during a series of security raids targeting hotels in Beirut last year had been recruited from Paris by a local Daesh (ISIS) branch, The Daily Star has learned.

According to a judicial case file on a 20-member Daesh cell seen by The Daily Star, leaders inside the terror group had recruited several people, including some with French nationality, to target residential areas of Beirut and the capital’s southern suburbs.

The group had begun preparations for the attacks through the purchase of weapons, including shells, rockets, bombs and explosive belts, according to information obtained from confessions with 10 of those in custody.

Rooms in different hotels in Beirut were also booked from where the militants would launch their attacks.

However, security forces foiled the plot through a series of raids in which some of the militants were arrested, while others managed to flee, including French would-be suicide bomber Mohammad Reda Awahrani.

The plot began with Mahmoud Khaled and Alaa Kaneen, two Daesh members now in custody, delivering explosives, including suicide belts, to Monzer al-Hassan in Tripoli.

Hassan, who was later killed in an Army raid on his apartment in Tripoli last year, is believed to have supplied the explosive belts to two Saudi suicide bombers who were staying at the Duroy Hotel in Beirut’s Raouche neighborhood. One of the bombers, Ali al-Thuwayne, blew himself up during a raid at the hotel on June 25, 2014, while the other, Abdel-Rahman Naser al-Shenefi, survived and was apprehended.

According to the file, the two Saudis and Frenchman Fayez Boushran, who was detained during a raid five days earlier at the Napoleon Hotel in Beirut’s Hamra district, were planning to target touristic and civilian areas in Beirut’s southern suburbs, including Al-Saha Restaurant and Al-Rassoul Hospital.

Boushran, who is originally from Comoros, had told the Military Tribunal that he had undergone intensive religious courses in France organized by Daesh members which convinced him to carry out a suicide attack against Shiites in Lebanon “to teach them a lesson over their fight against Sunnis in Syria.”

Boushran said one of the Daesh members convinced him to go through with an attack, arguing that his French nationality would not raise suspicion in Lebanon.

For months he watched YouTube videos from Syria before meeting a Daesh figure through Facebook who asked him to travel to the group’s stronghold of Raqqa through Turkey. Boushran booked a flight to Istanbul, flying through Frankfurt.

Once in Istanbul, Boushran was brought to a large house where many young people of different nationalities were taking religious lessons from elders before he and a number of others were moved to Raqqa.

There, he met with Daesh official “Abu Shahid” who asked him to carry out a suicide attack, and handed him $2,000 and his email address.

He then arrived in Beirut a few days later after agreeing with the Daesh official to carry out the suicide attack using a vest. The official told him to go to the Napoleon Hotel where he would meet up with others involved in the plot, providing him with their codeword, “Pepsi.”

At the hotel, Boushran communicated with “Abu Shahid” through Skype who told him that the operation had been cancelled because some of the attackers had to return to Turkey. The official told the Frenchman to leave the hotel and rent a room in Jounieh, north of Beirut.

But 200 security forces members hit the hotel with a massive raid on June 20 before Boushran checked out.

The 10 suspects in custody attended the first day of their trial Friday, but it was adjourned until July 21, 2016 since two of the defendants did not have lawyers present.

Source: The Daily Star

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