Lebanon: Militant Leader Fled Camp

The leader of the al-Qaida-inspired Fatah Islam group fled a Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon a day before it fell into the hands of the Lebanese army earlier this month, a government official said Monday.

Prosecutor General Saeed Mirza also said that a DNA test on a body suspected to be that of militant leader Shaker al-Absi proved it was not his.

The finding countered earlier reports by al-Absi's wife, who had identified the body as her husband's. Mirza also said a recently captured Fatah Islam militant told authorities al-Absi fled the camp the night of Sept. 1.

Dozens of Fatah Islam militants were killed as they staged a mass breakout from the Nahr el-Bared camp the next day.

Some managed to escape and were pursued by Lebanese troops in the countryside. A total of 164 Lebanese soldiers and 222 militants were killed during more than three months of fighting, and more than 200 militants were captured.

The fighting broke out May 20 between Fatah Islam militants holed up in Nahr el-Bared, just outside the port city of Tripoli , and Lebanese troops surrounding it. It was the worst internal violence since Lebanon 's 1975-1990 civil war.

The Lebanese government told a donors' conference in Beirut Monday that it would cost $382.5 million to rebuild Nahr el-Bared after the prolonged fighting and appealed to the international community for help. The U.N. relief agency appealed for $55 million in emergency funding.

Al-Absi's wife, his daughter and a Palestinian cleric who mediated between the army and Fatah Islam had identified a body in a Tripoli hospital morgue as al-Absi's.

But authorities took samples from al-Absi's daughter and his brother in Jordan for DNA testing.

"The result (shows) the corpse in the hospital morgue in Tripoli does not belong to the suspect Shaker al-Absi," Mirza's statement said.

In Jordan, al-Absi's older brother, Abdul-Razak al-Absi, criticized the Lebanese authorities' testing and insisted the militant leader was dead.

"These people don't know how to carry out DNA tests. It's wrong, my brother is dead," Abdul-Razak al-Absi said in a telephone interview.

"My brother's body was identified by his wife, his daughters and five Muslim scholars who knew him, so how can he be alive?" the brother said.

Asked if he had recently heard from al-Absi or was hiding knowledge of the militant leader's whereabouts, the brother said: "Enough is enough. I'm not lying, they're the ones who are confused and are trying to say unrealistic things."

Mirza said in a statement that a Yemeni member of the militant group, Nasser Mohammed Yahya Shiba, was arrested in the Minyeh region north of the camp two days ago and said he had left Nahr el-Bared with al-Absi and three other militants shortly before midnight on Sept. 1.

"Shaker al-Absi was in good health, wearing an explosive belt and carrying a Kalashnikov assault rifle, magazines and hand grenades," Mirza quoted the 24-year-old Yemeni as saying.

The Yemeni added that he lost the others, hid in a deserted house and was captured after he sought food from a nearby house, according to the statement.

Al-Absi, a Palestinian linked to the late leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, had not been seen or heard from since early in the Nahr el-Bared fighting.

In 2004, a Jordanian military court sentenced al-Absi to death in absentia, along with al-Zarqawi, for their roles in the 2002 slaying of a U.S. diplomat in Amman . Al-Zarqawi was killed in a U.S. air strike a year ago.