It's official: Shaker al-Absi fled the Nahr el Bared camp before the army generals announced their final push into the Fateh al-Islam hideout. DNA testing on a body believed to be his, and identified as Absi by his wife, daughter and a Palestinian cleric, proved that it wasn't him. It seems unlikely the Fatah al-Islam leader is genetically unrelated to his offspring and kin (samples were reportedly taken from his daughters and brother).
In Jordan, al-Absi's brother said Lebanese authorities didn't know how to conduct DNA testing and insisted his brother was dead. However, Lebanese prosecutor Said Mirza announced today that the body lying in a Tripoli morgue was not Absi's.
Mirza said a captured Fatah al-Islam militant from Yemen confessed that he had fled the camp with Absi at 11pm on Saturday night, some 12 hours before the army declared victory. Absi was in "good health and wearing a suicide belt and carrying a Kalashnikov, magazines and hand grenades", the Yemeni militant was quoted as saying by Mirza.
I think I will accept Mirza's statement that Absi is alive and on the run. Unfortunately, it appears as though a red line has been observed with his alleged escape and disappearance. Absi's arrest would have provided solid evidence against the Syrian regime, possibly for use by the UN commission investigating the Hariri assassination and crimes linked to Fatah al-Islam. The UN commission has been investigating links between the groups that claimed responsibility for some of the murders and Fatah al-Islam.
With the Lebanese army's military intelligence handling the investigation into Fatah al-Islam, and given that the top generals have already concluded the group was "100 % al-Qaeda", the affair is starting to resemble the attempted cover up that followed the Hariri murder. At the time, the pro-Syrian authorities quickly blamed the assassination on an extremist organization, and a tape carrying the confession of the alleged suicide bomber was aired by al-Jazeera. The UN commission later concluded the individual in the tape had nothing to do with the assassination.
Just like the Hariri assassination required planning and intelligence work, so did the operations carried out by Fatah al-Islam inside and outside the refugee camp. Sadly, it looks like the sacrifice made by over 160 Lebanese soldiers is being wasted by some pro-Syrian army Lebanese chiefs, some of whom were "educated" in Syrian army institutions. Last week, this blog quoted reports claiming that some Lebanese army officers facilitated the escape of Syrian intelligence officers who were running Fatah al-Islam.
March 14 continues to remain silent over the army's exoneration of Syrian intelligence. When asked by LBC's Marcel Ghanem last week why army commander Michel Suleiman exonerated Syrian intelligence, Walid Jumblatt said, "I understand why Suleiman would say that, he has his considerations." Jumblatt refused to explain what these "considerations" were, saying that he did not want problems with the army commander.