Lebanese nationals and Syrian refugees have traveled to Iraq to join the Islamic State group’s fighters and to train there to set up terrorist cells in Lebanon, An Nahar daily reported on Monday.
The fighters have been traveling to Iraq since mid-June, the newspaper quoted informed officials as saying.
Some of them have returned to Lebanon after receiving the appropriate training to establish the sleeper cells, they said.
The jihadists have sent instructions to many followers to stay in the country rather than heading to Iraq and Syria’s northeastern region of Raqqa, a stronghold of the Islamic State.
There are estimates that 3,000 of the group’s fighters – Lebanese and Syrians – are based in Lebanon.
Many of the Syrian fighters are hiding in Lebanese towns and working in construction sites as a cover-up, the officials said.
Jihadists engaged in heavy gunbattles with the Lebanese army in the northeastern border town of Arsal last month. Before retreating toward Syrian territory, the militants, took with them hostages from the Lebanese army and security forces.
The clashes were the most dangerous spillover of violence from the civil war in neighboring Syria.
By some estimates, the Islamic State group occupies up to 35 percent of Syria, or about a third of the country.
It also spreads into most of the Sunni-dominated areas of northern and western Iraq, right up to the edges of Baghdad.