Lebanese troops on Saturday killed two Islamic militants including a head of the al-Qaida-inspired Fatah al-Islam which fought the army three years ago, a military spokesman said.
“Abdul Rahman Awadh, one of the key leaders of Fatah al-Islam,” was killed along with another militant known as Abu Bakr during clashes in the eastern Bekaa Valley region, the spokesman said.
A judicial source said Abu Bakr was Awadh’s key deputy who provided military training to members of the shadowy group said to be inspired by al-Qaida.
In 2007, Fatah al-Islam fought a fierce battle against the Lebanese army at the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon that lasted more than three months and cost 400 lives, with 168 soldiers among the dead.
Judicial authorities accuse Awadh of having “incited” militants to carry out attacks two years ago in the port city of Tripoli, near the Palestinian camp, that killed 21 people, including 13 soldiers.
Those found guilty of incitement to carry out deadly attacks can face the death penalty under Lebanese law.
Awadh, one of the most wanted Islamists in Lebanon, opened fire at troops along with his comrade and the soldiers responded killing the pair, the spokesman said.
The clash broke out in the Bekaa Valley town of Chtaura and both men were travelling on false identities, the army said.
Earlier, the spokesman said the army had been pursuing the pair since they emerged from another Palestinian refugee camp, Ain al-Hilweh in south Lebanon, but he did not give a timing.
Several extremist groups are suspected of having taken refuge in the north and east of the country, and in the 12 Palestinian camps scattered across Lebanon of which Ain el-Hilweh is the largest.
Awadh had been sheltering in Ain el-Hilweh for more than a year, according to the army, and is considered by some as the head of Fatah al-Islam.
Authorities also charge that the wanted Islamist was monitoring the movements of Lebanese army troops as well as of U.N. peacekeepers stationed in south Lebanon.
In August 2007, the U.S. State Department designated Fatah al-Islam, which denies formal links with al-Qaida, as a “terrorist” group.
Shaker al-Abssi, the head of Fatah al-Islam at the time of the Nahr al-Bared showdown won by the army, also figures among the top wanted Islamists but appears to have since fled the country.
Earlier Saturday, an Army Command-Orientation Directorate statement said: “After surveillance and inquiries, an Army Intelligence Directorate patrol managed to identify the location of two terrorists and to track them down, and when the patrol tried to arrest them in Chtaura’s square this morning, they opened fire on the patrol’s members who responded by shooting back, leaving the two terrorists dead.”
“Their bodies were moved to one of the region’s hospitals and the weapons and fake ID cards in their possession were confiscated, as investigations got underway,” the statement added.
Future News TV reported that two Palestinians wanted on terrorism and forgery charges were killed during a chase with security forces in the Bekaa town of Chtaura.
A third suspect managed to flee the scene, Future News added.