JDEIDET YABOUS, Syria -- The Syrian leader of an Islamic militant group blew himself up yesterday after trying to cross into Lebanon and engaging in a gunbattle with Syrian forces. Two border guards were wounded.
The incident raises questions about the security of the Lebanese-Syrian frontier, which Israel says is a gateway for weapons to rearm Hezbollah militants.
It comes at a time of increased tension in Lebanon as the struggle intensifies between the anti-Syria government and factions led by Hezbollah, Syria's ally in Lebanon.
The Syrian Interior Ministry said in a statement that the clash began when Omar Abdullah, 28, the leader of the Islamic militant group Tawhid and Jihad, was challenged when he tried to cross into Lebanon with fake documents.
Tawhid and Jihad, Arabic for Monotheism and Holy War, was the name originally used by Al Qaeda in Iraq and in 2004, the State Department designated it a terrorist group under its original name. Groups linked to or sympathetic to Al Qaeda have used the name Tawhid and Jihad, but such a group had not been known to be operating in Syria.
A witness said Abdullah was standing outside the passport control building when security agents approached. He opened fire with a handgun, wounding two guards, then ran toward the village of Kfeir Yabous, 500 yards away.
More forces arrived, started shooting, and apparently hit the gunman, said the witness, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. He said the attacker raised one hand in a gesture of surrender, but used the other to detonate an explosives belt.
The Interior Ministry said nine fake identification documents were found on Abdullah, who also used the name Omar Hamra.
Syria has refused to allow international forces to monitor the mountainous region along its shared border with Lebanon.