Ahmad al-Assir, a hard-line Sunni cleric, wanted in Lebanon for his involvement in attacks on the country’s security forces, was arrested in the capital Beirut Saturday. Al-Assir has been on the run since June 2013, according to media reports.
The state-run National News Agency reported that al-Assir was detained while attempting to escape to Egypt in a disguise, using a forged passport. Further details of the circumstances that led to his arrest have not yet been revealed.
Al-Assir, a firebrand cleric, who has frequently denounced the Iran-backed Shiite Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and the Syrian President Bashar Assad-led regime, led the attacks against the Lebanese army in the city of Sidon, located 25 miles south of Beirut, in June 2013. At least 18 Lebanese soldiers, as well as 30 of his own followers, were killed in clashes in the predominantly Sunni city.
According to the Lebanese army, which reportedly sought death penalty for al-Assir, the clashes began after the cleric’s followers opened fire without provocation on an army checkpoint.
Al-Assir has been accused of “having formed armed groups that attacked an institution of the state, the army, killed officers and soldiers, took explosive materials and light and heavy weapons and used them against the army,” according to an indictment by a Lebanese military judge.
Al-Assir is also believed to have ties with the Islamic State group, according to unconfirmed reports published earlier this year. In January, Lebanon’s Al-Joumhouria reported, citing unnamed security sources, that the cleric had been named the “emir” of ISIS’ branch in Lebanon.