Lebanese officials arrested the fugitive preacher Sheikh Ahmad al Assir at Beirut's Rafik Hariri International Airport on Saturday as he was fleeing the country, after being on the run for more than two years since he and his followers fought a deadly battle with the army in June 2013 outside the city of Sidon.
According to security sources, Assir was trying to fly to Nigeria by way of Cairo, using a false Palestinian passport and having changed his appearance. Unconfirmed reports said he had shaved his beard and had a facial surgery.
Although he was almost unknown in political sphere before the outbreak of Syrian civil war, Assir gained reputation on television shows by proclaiming himself as a defender of Sunni rights against the powerful Shia movement Hezbollah and its ally Syrian President Bashar al Assad.
The discourse of Assir was highly fiery and sectarian, he often blamed the Lebanon government and army for failing to protect Sunnis and being obliged to Hezbollah.
Ahmad al Assir also called his followers to fight alongside mainly Sunni rebels in Syria against Hezbollah, which supports Assad.
He is wanted over the incident that took place in June 2013 when one of his men was caught with illegal weapons in his car at a military checkpoint in southern city of Sidon. Upon the man’s opening fire to the army, the fighting spread quickly wounding many civilians and paralysing the city.
After 48 hours of conflict which leaded to the death of 18 soldiers, the army captured Assir’s headquarters complex, which included a mosque, several office buildings, and apartment blocks, finding heavy weapons and military-style uniforms, but Assir and and his several followers were able to escape.
In June 2013, the Sunni sheikh also called on his supporters to fire on apartments in Abra that he alleged housed Hezbollah members. Accordingly, his supporters clashed with Hezbollah in Abra, leaving one man dead.
In 2014, Assir and 53 others were accused of having formed armed groups that attacked the army, killing officers and soldiers, of having heavy weapons and they were sentenced to death.
However, during the time he was on run, he has continued to issue audio statements and many rumours came out as to where he was hiding.