Lebanon Daily Star: Members of Israeli spy ring 'related to 9/11 hijacker'


Members of Israeli spy ring 'related to 9/11 hijacker'
'Lebanon is an open theater for espionage'
By Andrew Wander
Daily Star staff
Monday, November 03, 2008

BEIRUT: Two men arrested for running an Israeli spy ring in the Bekaa Valley are relatives of a suicide hijacker who piloted a plane in the September 11, 2001, attacks, a security source told The Daily Star on Sunday. The Lebanese Army announced on Saturday that it had arrested two people suspected of involvement with a spy network that gathered information for Israel's intelligence services.

The army said that the men had been arrested on Friday, but the source said that they were actually captured two weeks ago and the discovery of the arrests by the media prompted the army to announce their capture.

The army said the men had admitted "gathering information on political party offices and monitoring the movements of party figures for the enemy."

The statement added that the men had been found with "communications devices and other sophisticated equipment," which they used to gather information and transmit it to Mossad agents.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the source said the men are relatives of Ziad Jarrah, the Lebanese who helped commandeer United Airlines Flight 93 before it crashed into a Pennsylvania field on September 11, 2001, killing everyone on board. Jarrah's family is from the town of Al-Marej in the Bekaa Valley, where the arrests took place.

The Jarrah family have repeatedly denied that Ziad was part of the September 11 plot, claiming he was instead a innocent passenger on the plane, but an official investigation concluded that he was a senior member of the hijacking team who had undergone flight training in order to carry out the attacks.

Residents of Al-Marej told As-Safir newspaper that the men were arrested when security forces raided a home in the town and seized equipment from a car. The newspaper said investigators had found documents which prove that the men had been in contact with Israeli intelligence agents. Investigators said that the men had passed information about the location of Lebanese and Syrian army outposts to the Israelis.

One of the two men arrested, identified only by his initials "A.D.J.," is believed to have been the head of the spy ring. Security sources told The Daily Star that the man was a member of the Palestinian militant group Fatah al-Intifadah, which is known to be active along the Syrian border.

The other man who was arrested is said to be a relative of "A.D.J." and was allegedly involved in conducting reconnaissance work for Mossad in the Bekaa Valley.

Investigators said that the spy ring had been active in the area since the late 1980s.

Retired General Elias Hanna told The Daily Star that Lebanon provided the perfect environment for spies to operate. "Lebanon is an open theater for espionage and counter-espionage," he said. "It has all the elements that are needed in international and regional conflict."

But he said that if the group had been operating since the 1980s it would be surprising. "That's 20 years," he said. "That's a long period of time."

The timing of the arrests was also surprising, he said, given that senior officials in the Lebanese Army had recently been replaced, disrupting the continuity needed for counter-espionage operations.

"You have to work on these cases for a long period of time. It requires information and long periods of monitoring," Hanna said.

"The previous period was chaotic in Lebanon, so I don't know how the arrests happened," he added.

He said the group were probably trying to gather information about Hizbullah, but would not have been able to infiltrate the group. "Hizbullah is an intelligence-proof entity," he said. "It operates with a very high level of secrecy. If you cannot get inside it, you study its environment. This is what we are seeing."

Investigators say the men were tasked with monitoring the movements of senior political figures in the Bekaa region, which lies on the main route between Beirut and Damascus.

Officials are also investigating a theory that the group provided intelligence to the Israelis that may have helped them plan the killing of the senior Hizbullah military commander Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus in February.

Hizbullah's leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, has accused Israel of being behind the car bomb that killed Mughniyeh and has pledged that the Shiite group will take revenge for his death.

An Israeli government spokesman refused to comment on the arrests.

"Every couple of weeks there is someone, somewhere accusing the Mossad of something. As a rule, we don't comment on all these accusations," the spokesman said on Sunday.

Meanwhile, the Lebanese Army denied the validity of media reports that linked two men seen crossing the Lebanese-Israeli border on Sunday with the case. In a statement issued on Sunday, the army said that the reports were "confused."