CAIRO, Egypt – The leader of an Al Qaeda-linked Lebanese group has probably been killed in Syria, according to a statement purportedly posted by the faction on an Islamic militant Web site Tuesday.
Shaker al-Absi went on the run last year after his group, Fatah Islam, battled the Lebanese army for weeks inside a Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon. The statement attributed to Fatah Islam said al-Absi fled Lebanon in 2007 and went to Syria.
It claimed he was later ambushed by Syrian security forces in Jermana, a small town south of Damascus. Al-Absi might have been detained, but most likely was killed, the statement said, without providing further details.
"We don't know his fate, but we believe he probably was martyred, but we don't have solid evidence," said the statement, which could not be independently verified.
There was no immediate comment from Syrian authorities about the statement posted on a Web site commonly used by Islamic militant groups, including Al Qaeda.
Syria's government recently blamed Fatah Islam for a car bombing in the Syrian capital, Damascus, that killed 17 people in September.
The more than three-month siege in Lebanon, at the Nahr el-Bared refugee camp, ended in September 2007. Lebanon's government said about 220 militants and 168 soldiers were killed, while Palestinian officials put the Palestinian civilian death toll at 47.
Lebanese officials say Fatah Islam, which had set up a base at Nahr el-Bared in late 2006, is made up of Muslim extremists of various nationalities.
They say al-Absi is a Palestinian linked to the late leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. He was sentenced to death in absentia in Jordan for his involvement in the 2002 murder of U.S. diplomat Laurence Foley in Amman.
In the Web statement, the group said it elected Abu Mohammed Awad as its leader but gave no further details.
In November, Syrian state television aired purported "confessions" of alleged Fatah Islam members in custody and one suspect identified as the group's security chief said al-Absi was smuggled into Syria from Lebanon but hasn't been heard of since July. He added that al-Absi's hand-picked successor, Awad, was chosen as their leader and that he was based in southern Lebanon's Ein el-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp.
Awad has not been seen for months and is believed to either have gone deep underground or slipped out of the camp, an infamous haven for militants.