Ghosn denies remarks on Al-Qaeda-linked chief's arrest

By THE DAILY STAR, BEIRUT, LEBANON Published: January 1, 2014

BEIRUT -- Lebanon's caretaker defense minister denied Wednesday having confirmed the arrest of Majid bin Mohammad al-Majid, a Saudi who heads an Al-Qaeda-linked group that claimed responsibility for last year's deadly attack on the Iranian Embassy in Beirut.

"Minister [Fayez] Ghosn did not give any statements to any media outlet," a statement from the Lebanese official's office said.

Agence France Presse news agency earlier quoted Ghosn as saying Majid, the leader of the Abdallah Azzam Brigades, was arrested by Lebanese Army intelligence in Beirut, without specifying when the arrest had taken place.

"He was wanted by the Lebanese authorities and is currently being interrogated in secret," AFP also quoted the minister as saying.

On Tuesday, Reuters news agency quoted U.S. national security sources as saying that media reports from Lebanon that the Lebanese Army had recently arrested Majid were credible.

A security source told The Daily Star that a man suspected of being Majid was arrested and that Lebanese authorities were running DNA tests to confirm the man's identity.

Another security source in Sidon, south Lebanon, told The Daily Star Majid had resided in the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh, on the city's outskirts, for over a year.

Majid, according to the source, had been in and out of the Ain al-Hilweh camp several times.

On Nov. 19, 2013, two suicide bombers targeted Iran's Embassy in Beirut, killing an Iranian diplomat and 29 other people. The suicide attack, the first in Lebanon since the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, also wounded 150 people.

The Abdallah Azzam Brigades, through its religious guide Sheikh Sirajeddine Zuraiqat, claimed responsibility for the bombings, warning it would carry out further attacks until Hezbollah withdraws its fighters from Syria and Islamist detainees in Lebanon are released.

Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah has accused Saudi intelligence of being behind the suicide attack.

"We believe the Abdallah Azzam Brigades' statement about the bombing ... this is a bona fide group that has a Saudi emir and its leadership is directly linked to Saudi intelligence," Nasrallah said at the time.

According to The Long War Journal, a counter-terrorism blog, Majid is on Saudi Arabia's list of 85 most-wanted individuals for links to Al-Qaeda.

Majid, according to the website, is the third Saudi known to serve in the top level of the Abdallah Azzam Brigades' leadership cadre.

In June 2012, Majid released a statement calling on Syrians to support the effort to topple President Bashar Assad's regime.