Caretaker Defense Minister Fayez Ghosn warned on Monday from the proliferation of extremists in Lebanon, accusing Lebanese political factions of playing a role in the rise of Salafist cleric Sheikh Ahmed al-Asir.
Some “Lebanese factions protected him all this time. Had the army arrested him, they would have said that a certain party is being targeted” through this arrest, Ghosn told al-Akhbar newspaper.
Asir, a controversial Sunni cleric who gained prominence for his criticism of Hizbullah, has not been seen since a fighting last week between his armed supporters and the Lebanese army in Abra outside the southern city of Sidon.
Around 18 soldiers and more than 20 gunmen were killed in the gunbattles that began when Asir's supporters opened fire on an army checkpoint.
“The Sidon incidents wouldn't have taken place had soldiers were not been killed in a cold blood,” he said, adding “the army's reaction was natural.”
Several parties have accused the military of targeting the Sunni sect and abusing the armed men that it arrested for taking part in the fighting.
“Let them stop targeting the army and casting doubts … Or else they will regret it when it is too late,” Ghosn said. “It is the only unified institution left” in the country.
The caretaker defense minister confirmed that Hizbullah did not take part in the Abra fighting despite accusations that the party's members had opened fire on Asir's supporters.
“With due all respect to all parties, the army's decisions are independent,” Ghosn told al-Akhbar. “It does not accept to belong to a certain party nor it allows anyone to interfere in an issue that targets the country's security.”
He warned that among the biggest dangers facing the country was “the proliferation of extremism and terrorism.”
Ghosn stressed that his remarks last year about the presence of al-Qaida in Lebanon were based on information and were not an act of intimidation.
The caretaker minister created a controversy in May 2012 when he said in an interview that al-Qaida exists in Lebanon. He also warned of the return of the spate of assassinations.