Al-Qaeda linked group had claimed responsibility for attack on the Iranian embassy
The power struggle between Iran and Saudi Arabia in Lebanon has resonated powerfully once again with the arrest of the head of an al-Qaeda-linked group, which had claimed responsibility for the deadly attack on the Iran Embassy in Beirut on November 19, 2013.
Lebanon’s caretaker Defence Minister Fayez Ghosn announced on Wednesday that Majid bin Muhammad al-Majid, the Saudi commander of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, “was arrested by the intelligence services of the Lebanese Army in Beirut”.
“He was wanted by the Lebanese authorities and is currently being interrogated in secret,” the Minister added.
On Tuesday, the private Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation International (LBCI) reported that Majid had been arrested about a week ago in the Lebanese capital.
Majid was a wanted man because the Abdullah Azzam Brigades had claimed responsibility for the November 19, 2013 attack on the Iran Embassy, which had killed 25 people, including Iran’s cultural attaché and a wife of another diplomat.
Iran and its ally in Lebanon, the Hezbollah, have accused Saudi intelligence for masterminding the strike-their positions marking a sharp escalation in the power struggle in the region that includes Syria, Lebanon and Iraq — between Tehran and Riyadh.
Iran’s angst against Saudi Arabia was evident during remarks on Wednesday by the Deputy Chairman of National Security and Foreign Policy Committee of Parliament, Mansour Haqiqatpour, as quoted by the country’s English language broadcaster, Press TV. “During a trip by Iranian parliamentary delegation to Beirut, we immediately declared after investigations that the Saudi footprint in the blasts was evident and conspicuous,” observed the lawmaker.
The Saudis have distanced themselves from the Abdullah Azzam Brigades and its head, who is a wanted man in Riyadh as well as in the United States.
In Beirut, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Lebanon, Mohammad Awad Assiri, told the Saudi daily, Alriyadh, that the Lebanese authorities had informed Riyadh about Majid’s arrest. DNA tests were now being conducted to confirm his identity, he added.
But challenging the Saudi perception, Hezbollah head Hassan Nasrallah has asserted during an interview with a Lebanese television channel that the Abdullah Azzam Brigades “is a bona fide group that has a Saudi emir and its leadership is directly linked to Saudi intelligence”.
A senior Iranian security official, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, in remarks quoted by Iran’s Fars News Agency on Wednesday, also stressed that Lebanese investigators must keep in mind that “the main element in the operation is of Saudi nationality”.
The conflict in Syria had also sharpened animosities between the Iran-Hezbollah alliance, which supports the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad, and Saudi Arabia, which intends to remove him.
With tensions between Riyadh and the Tehran-Hezbollah alliance sharpening, the Saudis have decided to provide an aid package of three billion dollars to the Lebanese military — a move that analysts say is meant to change the balance of power between the Lebanese Army and Hezbollah forces.
The decision appears to have the blessings of France, as this announcement was made by Lebanese President Michel Sleiman, while French President Francois Hollande was on a visit to Riyadh. Mr. Sleiman said on December 29, 2013 that the financial grant will be used by the Lebanese Army “to purchase weapons from France,” France 24 reported. At a presser in Riyadh Mr. Hollande confirmed that Paris was ready to supply weapons to the Lebanese Army.
During his stay in the Kingdom, Mr. Hollande also met Saad Hariri, the leader of the March 14 anti-Hezbollah coalition, signalling the reinforcement of ties between Saudi Arabia, France and Lebanese factions to counter Iranian influence in the Levantine state.