Fugitive Aussie terror suspect ‘fought with Iraq insurgents’

Martin Chulov, Middle East correspondent

FUGITIVE Australian terror suspect Hussein Sabbagh is a veteran of the Iraqi insurgency and a central figure in the Islamist uprising in Lebanon, Lebanese interrogators have told a detained Sydney man.

Lebanese military intelligence officers allegedly made the claim to former Sydney resident Omar al-Hadba, one of three Australians arrested in late June in a sweep of men suspected of links to the Fatah al-Islam terror group.

Mr Hadba told The Australian that interrogators, who detained him on charges of storing 500kg of weapons in his workshop, accused Mr Sabbagh of having contact with key members of Fatah al-Islam and terror suspects elsewhere in the Middle East.

Mr Sabbagh disappeared the day after Mr Hadba was arrested in the north Lebanon city of Tripoli on June 20, and his whereabouts are unknown. Intelligence officers say he probably had access to several passports and is almost certain to have left Lebanon.

Mr Sabbagh’s wife and three children are still living in a rented apartment in the Tripoli suburb of Abu Samra, across the road from the home of Mr Hadba, whose tiny workshop underneath allegedly held enough weapons to supply at least a company of combat-ready fighters.

In an interview with The Australian, Mr Hadba insisted he had nothing to do with Fatah al-Islam and knew nothing of the group until its members attacked Lebanese soldiers at the Nahr al-Barad Palestinian refugee refugee camp in late May.

Fatah al-Islam is an al-Qa’ida-linked group that emerged in mid-March, after its members infiltrated the refugee camp in northern Lebanon masquerading as members of an established pro-Syrian organisation.

Mr Hadba worked in Mr Sabbagh’s cafe in Tripoli during the first three weeks of the fighting, which eventually levelled the camp and in which 165 soldiers were killed. “After the third week finished, I said to him, ‘What’s going on?’,” Mr Hadba said. “And he replied, ‘No problem’. But I started to hear from other people he was going to run away … Then he started to go away for a few days and come back. Then one day he didn’t come back at all.”

Mr Hadba said Mr Sabbagh was linked to two men responsible for the weapons in his shed, and that Mr Sabbagh had asked him to deliver two large travel bags, which he now believes contained weapons.