BEIRUT, Lebanon, Jan. 2 (UPI) -- Assem Qanso, a member of the Lebanese parliament, said al-Qaida has infiltrated Lebanese fundamentalist groups with ideologies similar to that of al-Qaida.
In remarks published Monday in Asharq al-Awsat, Qanso, a Baath party member, disputed claims by Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Interior Minister Charbel Nahhas, both of whom have denied the presence of al-Qaida militants in the country, The Daily Star reported.
"Al-Qaida has infiltrated more than 20 fundamentalist organizations that [share similar ideologies to al-Qaida]," Qanso said.
Salafi movements in northern Lebanon and several areas of the eastern Bekaa Valley have provided "fertile ground" for the spread of al-Qaida in Lebanon, Qanso said Monday.
Lebanese Defense Minister Fayez Ghosn said last month al-Qaida had been sneaking into Lebanon posing as Syrian dissidents, The Daily Star reported.
Qanso, an ally of Syria, said al-Qaida members also had infiltrated the restive Homs as well as Qusayr and Talkalakh in Syria "to fight in order to weaken Syria in an attempt to topple it."
A high-ranking security source told Asharq al-Awsat "there is no al-Qaida presence in Lebanon at all."
"Lebanon is no longer an open arena and its security is no longer slack," the source said, adding Lebanese territory is "no longer a base or corridor for any terrorist group."