Assir planned to join
terror group in Nigeria

As-Safir reported that General Security was waiting for the fugitive sheikh at Beirut's Rafiq Hariri International Airport.

Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir. (AFP)

BEIRUT - Fugitive sheikh Ahmad al-Assir had planned to join a terror group in Nigeria prior to his dramatic Saturday arrest at Beirut’s Rafiq Harir International Airport, a Lebanese daily reported.


As-Safir on Monday published a lengthy article on the circumstances of the capture of the Sunni firebrand cleric who had been wanted for his role in the 2013 Abra clashes that left 18 Lebanese army soldiers dead.


Lebanon’s General Security, which is responsible for immigration and border control, announced Saturday that Assir had been arrested that morning at the Beirut airport while trying to flee with a forged Palestinian passport bearing a valid Nigerian visa.


Following his arrest and interrogation, Assir reportedly confessed that he was intending to take an EgyptAir flight to Nigeria’s capital Abuja.


“[His arrival] was going to be preceded by a short stop in Egypt, during which he would not have left the airport,” As-Safir said.


“A number of persons, Lebanese and Palestinians, would have received him on the ground [in] Nigeria, [after having arranged] his accommodation and concealment.”


“Later he would have joined Al-Qaeda groups fighting in Nigeria. This point necessitated swift communication between General Security and the Egyptian and Nigerian authorities to identify the people who were going to receive Assir [and] allow for their hand-over to the Lebanese authorities.”


Airport security waiting for Assir


Ahmad al-Assir

A photo taken of Assir following his arrest. (image via LebanonDebate.com)


As-Safir went into details on Assir’s last ditch attempt to escape justice in Lebanon and the security operation to catch him, reporting that General Security were anticipating the sheikh’s escape plan.


The daily said that a force of 40 General Security members, some in civilian clothes while others donned uniforms, deployed at the airport Saturday morning.


“They were told that a dangerous [suspect] called Khaled Abbasi, who had been accused of terrorist offenses, was present, and that protective measures had to be taken in case a terrorist tried to storm the airport or blow themselves up with an explosive belt outside.”


“Surprisingly, [no members] of this force moved from [their] positions, or made any movements that caught the attention of the travelers in the airport.”


“Additionally, [the force] did not know about [Assir’s] arrest until it was ordered to General Security HQ.”


The report claimed that General Security had been tipped-off that Assir was aiming to leave Lebanon using forged identification papers.


“Three months ago it was confirmed that he had chosen to head for Nigeria because it was possible for him to acquire a visa stamp from the Nigerian embassy in Beirut… without having to appear in person,” As-Safir reported.


General Security then put together a taskforce to find the fugitive sheikh. A number of “groups monitored phone calls thought to be linked to Ahmed Assir, [while one other] group maintained contact with a [network] of informers in Sidon, Iqlim el-Kharroub and north Lebanon.”


At the same time, another group drew up all the possible depictions of how Assir could look “using an advanced [version of] Photoshop.”


“Dozens of virtual personalities were drawn up, and later it transpired that one of them was a 90% match of the photograph [taken] of [Assir] at the moment he was captured.”


Captured at airport


The report explained that Assir was captured after checking in with EgyptAir when waiting in line to have his passport stamped at General Security.


“When he presented his passport to the security forces member, the latter asked him: Is your name Khaled Abbasi?”


When he answered that he was Abbasi, the security forces member asked Assir to come with him in to the adjacent interrogation room.


“He took more than one picture of him, and they were sent, using WhatsApp, to the competent officer in General Security’s Information Bureau.”


According to the report, the “the signature of the commissioned officer from General Security” on his papers was easily identified as a forgery.

Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir. (AFP)

Three months ago it was confirmed that he had chosen to head for Nigeria because it was possible for him to acquire a visa stamp from the Nigerian embassy in Beirut… without having to appear in person.