Sidon Tense as Armed Supporters of al-Asir Deploy around His Mosque
[An Nahar] Salafist holy man Sheikh Ahmed al-Asir and his supporters deployed Friday with their weapons around the Bilal bin Rabah Mosque in Sidon, amid a heavy deployment by the army and security forces.

"Armed supporters of Sheikh Ahmed al-Asir deployed around the Bilal bin Rabah Mosque and the army has called in reinforcements from outside Sidon," MTV reported.

Al-Jadeed television said al-Asir himself was carrying a weapon.

"Asir's supporters deployed with their weapons after he claimed that Hizbullah is trying to kidnap him," OTV reported.

"Sheikh Ahmed al-Asir told his supporters to 'prepare for martyrdom'," al-Jadeed said.

A front man for al-Asir told Voice of Leb radio (100.5): "We reject the presence of monitoring locations belonging to Hizbullah around the mosque and the party's repeated attacks against us."

Later on Friday, LBCI television said "the armed supporters of al-Asir withdrew from around the Bilal bin Rabah Mosque and the army withdrew its vehicles from the area."

OTV for its part said the army is staging patrols in Sidon and the situation is under control despite al-Asir's "provocations."

Al-Asir issued a statement later on Friday, clarifying that "a number of young men who belong to the (Hizbullah-affiliated) Resistance Brigades, accompanied by members of 'Iran's party' (Hizbullah), roamed the area around the mosque while carrying visible weapons."

"They made provocative moves, prompting the mosque's guards to go on alert," Asir added.

The Islamist holy man said the incident "led to a state of tension among supporters and neighbors who rejected these provocative moves," urging security forces to shoulder their responsibilities and "protect civilians."

On Wednesday, al-Asir accused Hizbullah of "renting apartments" in the vicinity of his mosque in Abra, east of Sidon, with the aim of "monitoring" his movements.

"Recently, the mosque's neighbors, and we're among them, noticed some rented apartments that are inhabited by young men who are not residents of the area, and the neighbors thought that they are students," Asir said, adding that "a dispute happened recently and heavily armed young men came out of these rented apartments and threatened the neighbors."

"We have irrefutable evidence that the mission of these men is to monitor me, my movements and the movements of the mosque goers," Asir went on to say, noting that "when we started to raise the issue, a lot of security agencies, including the army, deployed around these apartments to protect them."

The anti-Hizbullah Salafist holy man urged officials and authorities to force the evacuation of the apartments to avert a possible "strife or any dangerous incident."

Interviewed by al-Jadeed in the wake of Friday's armed deployment, Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said "there is nothing going on in Sidon and no Hizbullah members are monitoring al-Asir's movements."

"Anyone carrying a weapon will be fired at and the deployment of gunnies is prohibited in Sidon," Charbel warned.

"When someone voices sectarian remarks, the judiciary must act and must issue arrest warrants," he added.

Posted by: Fred 2013-02-23