Jihadist militant leader in Lebanon Majid al-Majid dies in custody

The Lebanese army only confirmed Majid al-Majid's identity through DNA tests on Friday

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A prominent al-Qaeda-linked militant in Lebanon has died in custody in a Beirut hospital, Lebanon's army says.

Majid al-Majid, a Saudi who led the Abdullah Azzam Brigades and was on Saudi Arabia's most-wanted-terrorists list, was arrested recently.

An army general told Associated Press the militant died of kidney failure.

The Abdullah Azzam Brigades claimed a double suicide bomb attack on the Iranian embassy in southern Beirut in November that left 23 people dead.

Analysis

Majid al-Majid was no doubt a very precious catch not only for Lebanon but for many other countries where he was among the most-wanted.

The whole intelligence operation, from the capture of the Saudi national until the announcement of his death, has been mired in rumour and ambiguity. Many reports in local media talk of a US tip-off leading to his capture. The Lebanese army is keeping a tight lid on any details, perhaps fearing a backlash from supporters of various Islamist groups.

The most important question remains whether the authorities were able to extract any valuable information before he died, or whether he was interrogated at all. There is only one certainty: Lebanon appears to have become an operational centre for al-Qaeda affiliated groups. Many fear Majid al-Majid is just one link in a long chain of jihadi groups here.

The Iranian cultural attache was among those killed.

'Interrogated'

A Lebanese army statement said Majid al-Majid died in a military hospital in Beirut on Saturday, as he was receiving medical treatment.

Security sources said he had gone into a coma suffering from kidney failure.

He was believed to have required dialysis for the condition.

It was only on Friday that the Lebanese authorities said that DNA tests had confirmed his identity.

Defence Minister Fayez Ghosn earlier confirmed the commander was being held by army intelligence in Beirut and was "being interrogated in secret". He refused to say when and how the arrest took place.

However, a Lebanese security source told the Reuters news agency that he had been captured with another Saudi militant and had been living in the southern city of Sidon.

Lebanese women hold placards of victims of the Iran embassy bombing, Beirut, 3 Jan Lebanese women hold placards of victims of the Iran embassy bombing, claimed by the Brigades
Iran embassy bombing in Beirut, 19 Nov 2013 The attack left 23 people dead, including the Iranian cultural attache

Majid al-Majid had led the Abdullah Azzam Brigades since 2012.

Abdullah Azzam Brigades

Abdullah Azzam Brigades logo
  • Based in Lebanon and the Arabian Peninsula
  • Formed in 2009, according to US, but name used to claim attacks in Egypt in 2004 and 2005
  • Saudi wing claimed 2010 attack on Japanese oil tanker off the coast of Oman
  • Lebanese wing behind occasional rocket fire against Israel since 2009, but not believed to have carried out a major attack until embassy bombing
  • Led since 2012 by Majid al-Majid, a Saudi citizen named on the kingdom's most-wanted list

Based in both Lebanon and the Arabian Peninsula, the group is named after a Palestinian jihadist ideologue who recruited mujahideen for the fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

The group has attracted hardline Islamist militants who fought in the Iraqi insurgency and has based itself in the Ein el-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp, near Sidon.

The US designated the group a terrorist organisation in 2012, freezing its assets.

November's Iranian embassy bombing was believed to be its first major attack.

Iran and the Hezbollah militant group are allied with the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

The BBC's Paul Wood on the embassy attack

Media reports said Majid al-Majid had pledged allegiance to the leader of the al-Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda affiliate seeking to overthrow President Assad.

After the Iran embassy bombing, a Salafist cleric close to the Abdullah Azzam Brigades warned attacks would continue in Lebanon until Iranian and Hezbollah forces stopped fighting alongside government forces in Syria, and the Sunni group's prisoners were released in Lebanon.

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