A top U.S. counterterrorism official has admitted that there are “sympathetic groups to al-Qaida in Lebanon” but refused to comment on allegations made by the Lebanese defense minister about the operations of militants in the eastern border town of Arsal.
“We’ve seen the reports, and I don’t have any further comment on them,” said Daniel Benjamin, Coordinator for Counterterrorism at the Department of State, in a special briefing on Wednesday.
“We certainly know that there have been sympathetic groups to al-Qaida in Lebanon for many years,” he added.
He recalled that the Lebanese army had clashed with al-Qaida-linked Fatah al-Islam militants in the northern Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared in 2007.
Controversy erupted in Lebanon last month after Defense Minister Fayez Ghosn said al-Qaida members were operating in Arsal and had been crossing the Lebanese-Syrian border.
“It is certainly true that there have been elements like that in Lebanon over the years,” Benjamin said, adding: “Whether that had anything to do with what’s going on in Syria is another matter entirely.”
Asked if he thought that al-Qaida was behind twin explosions in Damascus last month, he said: “I don't know. We don’t have anything conclusive on that.”
The Syrian regime has accused elements of al-Qaida of carrying out the bombings that left 44 people dead.
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