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Anger in Lebanon after jihadists say policeman killed

BAALBEK: Gunmen and protesters took to the streets Saturday after a Syrian jihadist group said it killed a captured Lebanese policeman to avenge the arrest of family members of Islamist militants.

Relatives of another 25 troops and policemen being held hostage cut off several roads in Beirut and elsewhere in Lebanon, demanding the government work for their immediate release.

A top government official told AFP on condition of anonymity that the authorities had not yet received proof of policeman Ali al-Bazzal’s killing, which Al-Nusra Front, Al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, claimed via its Twitter account.

Bazzal is the fourth hostage reportedly killed by their jihadist captors from the 30 troops and policemen kidnapped in August, after a major battle in Arsal in eastern Lebanon on the border with Syria.

A fifth soldier died from wounds he suffered during the Arsal battle four days into the hostage crisis.

None of the dead troops’ bodies has been handed over to Lebanese authorities, said the government source.

Late Friday, Al-Nusra posted on Twitter a photograph that it said showed Bazzal’s execution to avenge the Lebanese authorities’ detention of a jihadist’s wife, as well as the ex-wife and daughter of the Islamic State jihadist group’s chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

“If the sisters that were unjustly arrested are not released, then after a short period of time the death sentence will be executed against another prisoner we hold,” Al-Nusra said.

The government source told AFP the arrests came after “the security forces developed suspicions over the two women’s links” to extremist groups operating in Lebanon.

As well as Baghdadi’s ex-wife, Lebanese authorities have arrested a woman married to Abu Ali al-Shishani, a former member of Al-Nusra Front who has since joined IS.

Al-Nusra threatened it would execute another hostage if the Lebanese government does not release the two women.

Around eastern Lebanon’s majority Shiite town of Bazzaliyeh, home of slain hostage Bazzal’s family, gunmen took to the streets Friday night and kidnapped several men from the Sunni town of Arsal, where Syrian refugees have sought shelter.

A security source initially told AFP that one of the men had been shot dead.

The source later said the man was a Syrian living in Arsal, that he had survived and was being treated in hospital for gunshot wounds.

The other men kidnapped overnight have since been freed, said the source.

In an angry statement to reporters, Bazzal’s bereaved family called on Lebanese authorities “to immediately execute terrorists” held in the country’s prisons.

The family also warned they would not allow any aid delivered to Arsal, where tens of thousands of Syrians have sought shelter from their country’s civil war.

Lebanon has been scarred by sectarian tensions linked to the war in neighbouring Syria. -AFP

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