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Lebanese Special Forces neutralize Sheikh Ahmed al-Asir

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Sheikh Ahmad al-Asir attacked on Sunday, 23 June 2013 a Lebanese army checkpoint following the arrest of one of his bodyguards, Fadi Beirouti, who was riding in an armored convoy. The Sheikh’s supporters killed three Lebanese soldiers, including an officer.

Reacting immediately, the Lebanese Special Forces intervened. They chased the armed group as far as the Bilal Bin Rabah Mosque in Abra (2 km from Sidon), which serves as the Sheiks’s headquarters, and laid siege to it.

During the clashes, Sheikh Ahmad al-Asir sent a text message calling on his followers to desert the army and join his ranks.

More than thirty people are reported to have died during the heavy weapons fighting. Sheikh reportedly fled in an ambulance, before resuming the fight a little further away.

The whole country was glued to the television set following Sunday’s "events." Responding to the Sheikh’s call, Palestinian Salafists moved in to take Sidon; they were quickly surrounded by the Lebanese army which started bombarding them. At the same time, turmoil broke out in Tripoli.

Sheikh Ahmad al-Asir is a former tabla player. He became sheikh since the beginning of the Syrian crisis, with strong financial support from Qatar. He quickly became famous for his provocations against the Shiite Hezbollah. In November 2012 and June 2013 clashes between his supporters and members of the resistance movement killed four people. President Michel Sleiman had prevented the army from intervening as long as it was not directly threatened.

Throughout the whole afternoon, political leaders went under the radar, waiting to see the outcome of the confrontations. With the exception of former Prime Minister Najib Mikati who denounced the intervention of the army and tried to exert pressure to obtain its removal.

These events erupted at a time when the Emir of Qatar and his prime minister have been forced by the U.S. to surrender, in August, the throne of the emirate to Prince Tamim. It is precisely through the Emir that President Michel Sleiman acceded to power, despite the fact that the Lebanese constitution bars former chiefs of staff from jumping from that office directly into the presidential seat.

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