BEIRUT – Four people suspected of links to Al Qaeda were charged Monday with planning attacks in Lebanon and neighboring Syria, judicial officials said.
Islamic extremist groups drawing inspiration from Al Qaeda have been responsible for violence in both countries in recent years, including attacks on Lebanese soldiers and an attempt to storm the U.S. Embassy in Syria's capital.
The four men charged Monday by a military prosecutor were accused of meeting with several of those groups and of forming "a secret gang linked to Al Qaeda," judicial officials said, without providing details of their alleged plots.
One of the suspects remains at large. The three in custody are a Syrian, a Kuwaiti and a Kazakh. If convicted, they could be sentenced to death, the officials said.
The four met with two Al Qaeda-inspired groups, Fatah Islam and Jund al-Sham, in an effort to raise money and procure weapons, the officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
It took three months of heavy fighting for Lebanese troops to uproot Fatah Islam from its base in a Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon in 2007. The battles killed 220 militants, 171 soldiers and 47 Palestinian civilians.
Attacks have also targeted U.N. peacekeepers in southern Lebanon. It is unclear who is responsible, but Al Qaeda's deputy leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, praised one attack that killed six Spanish peacekeepers in June 2007.
In Syria, extremist groups accused of attacks have called for the overthrow of a government they denounce for its secularism.
Last year, Syrian state TV aired what it said were confessions by suspected Fatah Islam members of being behind a Damascus car bombing that killed 17 people in September 2008.
Syrian officials blamed Jund al-Sham for an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Damascus in September 2006. Three assailants and a Syrian guard were killed.