Al-Qaida-inspired group says its slain leader was headed from Lebanon to Iraq

BEIRUT (AP) — An al-Qaida-inspired group says its leader and a top commander were heading to Iraq to join insurgents there when Lebanese security troops killed them over the weekend, according to a U.S. terror-monitoring firm.

The Washington-based SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks militant postings on the Internet, said Wednesday that a statement on jihadist forums from the Fatah Islam group confirmed the deaths of the two.

The statement, posted Tuesday, said the two were en route to join an al-Qaida front group in Iraq. The Lebanese military had said they were gunned down Saturday in a firefight with security forces in Lebanon's eastern Bekaa Valley.

They were identified as Abdul-Rahman Awad, a Palestinian leader of the Fatah Islam and one of the most wanted men in Lebanon, and his aide, Ghazi Faysal Abdullah, also known as "Abu Bakr."

The militants' statement noted that Awad had sent his son to Iraq two months ago to carry out a suicide bombing, SITE said.

Hundreds of foreign fighters have gone to Iraq in the past to join insurgents there but their flow is believed to have decreased recently, in part because border smuggling is more difficult and al-Qaida is thought to lack funds for new recruits.

Fatah Islam was little known before it fought a three month battle against the Lebanese army in 2007. About 220 militants and 171 soldiers were killed in the fighting. Palestinian officials said 47 civilians had died.

Fatah Islam was also blamed for deadly blasts that killed more than a dozen Lebanese soldiers in the northern city of Tripoli two years ago, as well as an attack on U.N. peacekeepers near Lebanon's border with Israel.

Lebanon stepped up pressure on the group after the 2007 clashes, and last year, a Lebanese military court convicted 12 Fatah Islam members of carrying out terrorist acts. Five of the men — including Awad — received life sentences in absentia.