JDEIDET YABOUS, Syria – The leader of an Islamic militant group blew himself up at a border post near Lebanon on Tuesday after a gunbattle with security forces that left two of them wounded, the Syrian government said.
Omar Abdullah, 28, the leader of a militant organization Tawhid and Jihad, was challenged when he tried to cross into Lebanon with fake documents, the Interior Ministry said.
A witness said Abdullah was standing outside the passport control building when security agents approached. He opened fire with a handgun, wounding two, then ran toward the nearby village of Kfeir Yabous about 500 yards away.
More security forces arrived, started shooting and apparently hit the gunman, said the witness, who spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisals. The attacker raised one hand in a gesture of surrender, but used the other to detonate an explosives belt.
The Interior Ministry statement said nine fake identification documents were found on Abdullah, who also used the name Omar Hamra.
The crossing is about seven minutes' drive from the Lebanese border point of Masnaa, on the highway linking Beirut with Syria's capital, Damascus.
It was not clear whether Abdullah intended to carry out a suicide bombing in Lebanon or whether he aimed to attack the border post.
Hezbollah, Syria's ally in Lebanon, reported through its Al-Manar television channel that Abdullah's wife was arrested, but the Syrian government statement made no mention of an arrest.
Milos Strugar, a spokesman for the U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon, said the U.N. does not monitor the Lebanese-Syrian border and didn't have any information about the incident.
Islamic militants have engaged in several battles with Syrian security forces in recent years.
On Sept. 12, four militants and a Syrian guard were killed when they tried to bomb the heavily guarded U.S. Embassy in Damascus.
Most of the attacks were linked to Jund al-Sham, a little-known Al Qaeda offshoot group that was established in Afghanistan by Syrians, Palestinians and Jordanians. Its founders had links to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the head of Al Qaeda in Iraq, who was killed in a U.S. airstrike earlier this year.
Abdullah's Tawhid and Jihad, Arabic for Monotheism and Holy War, is a name often used by militant groups sympathetic to — and sometimes linked with — Al Qaeda. Previously, no group with that name was known to be active in Syria.
Sunni Muslim extremist groups, including Al Qaeda, fiercely oppose President Bashar Assad's secular government.
Assad's father, the late President Hafez Assad, crushed a Muslim fundamentalist uprising in the city of Hama in 1982 that left thousands of people dead.
Bashar Assad has warned Islamic radicals represent an increasing threat to Syria, saying al-Qaida militants are taking refuge in neighboring Lebanon.
Syria is a transit route for Arab militants heading to Iraq to fight in the insurgency. The United States accuses Syria of failing to stop the flow of fighters, but Damascus insists it is doing all it can to seal its long desert border with its neighbor.