Al-Qaida roots itself in Lebanon, Thanks to Hariri's sectarian politics

From Le Monde Diplomatique, February Edition.
Excerpts from the article.
In addition to this article there are two others we can read on the subject of Al-Qaida in Lebanon:
Seymour Hersh: The Redirection
Nir Rosen: Al-Qaida in Lebanon, the Iraq war spreads.
A digest on the subject of Al-Qaida and the future movement published on this blog, May 2007.


Last year the Lebanese army besieged the Palestinian camp of Nahr al-Bared, where a previously unknown organisation, Fatah al-Islam, was dug in. These events, like attacks on the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, reflect the appearance of radical Sunni Islamist networks, some of them linked to al-Qaida, which is now treating Lebanon as a key base .
by Fidaa Itani

"We were forcibly thrust into a battle that does not concern us. I would rather not have had to fight the Lebanese army," said Shahin Shahin, a Fatah al-Islam military commander, to a negotiator during the siege of the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared by the Lebanese army. It was not then yet known that he was a son of Osama bin Laden and a high-ranking al-Qaida official. His misgivings about the fighting reflected his organisation's ambivalence towards Lebanon -- whether to see the country as a battleground on which to confront the United States and its allies, or just as a rear base for the training and transit of al-Qaida operatives...
...In those days the Sunnis were middle class traders, shopkeepers and civil servants, or illiterate country people. They expressed their support for Arab nationalism and the Palestinian struggle by joining Nasserite or leftwing movements. However, several Sunni groups moved closer to radical Islamism after Syrian troops occupied Lebanon in 1976, bringing repression with them. At the same time the influence of the Syrian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood started to increase, threatening the regime in Damascus with armed incursions by its military wing.
When the civil war in Lebanon ended in 1989, with the signature of the Taif accord, the Salafists, whose influence was still only limited, mainly targeted other Islamic organisations, al-Ahbash (1) or the Association of Islamic Charitable Projects (AICP). These attacks were an opportunity for the Salafist groups to perfect their intellectual and missionary skills, recruiting in many towns and villages.
They were particularly successful with middle-class graduates, as well as with students of theology who had been in Saudi Arabia and stayed in contact with radical ulema there. But the groups still lacked cohesion, the best known being al-Hidayah wal-Ihsan (Preaching and Charity), which was reorganised by the son of the movement's founder, Dai al-Islam al-Shahal.
On 31 August 1995 one of these groups assassinated Sheikh Nizar al-Halabi, the head of the AICP, and caused a stir. It was the first time that a Salafist group had eliminated an opponent. Members of the organisation confessed to committing the murder and persisted in taking exclusive responsibility to the end. However, the Lebanese authorities and Syrian intelligence (which controlled the country) chose to pin the crime on Abdul Karim al-Saadi (aka Abu Mahjen), the Palestinian leader of Asbat al-Ansar, which was based in the Ayn al-Hilwah refugee camp, near Saida in southern Lebanon. In 1999 the same group, originally formed by veterans from the war in Afghanistan, was blamed for the assassination of four judges in Saida central court.
...In May 2000 Russian negotiators, who were supervising the Israeli withdrawal from South Lebanon with the Syrians, gave the Lebanese and Syrian authorities a recording of a conversation between Kanj and Chechen mujahideen, which led to a Lebanese army raid on Dinniyeh on New Year's Eve 2001. At the same time the Syrian authorities, operating on the other side of the border, arrested radical Islamists, confirming the network's trans- national nature.
Al-Qaida waited till the US invasion of Iraq in March 2003 before openly calling for units to be set up in Lebanon. But al-Qaida also operates as a form of franchise, with a far from centralised organisation, leaving considerable freedom of movement to local units. It was well established by the end of 2005 when the Lebanese authorities first succeeded in catching the members of a network, subsequently referred to as the "Network of 13", led by Hassan Nabaa, a Lebanese national. The group, which also comprised Saudis, Syrians and Palestinians, supported al-Qaida and the Iraqi resistance movement, operating in Lebanon and Syria where it clashed on several occasions with the secret service, particularly in
border zones. It is said to have shot down a Syrian helicopter.

The arrests prompted a controversy because the prisoners'confessions contained details of their involvement in the assassination of the former prime minister, Rafik Hariri, on
14 February 2005. But there is doubt about how the confessions were obtained, and the group's alleged link with the young Palestinian Ahmad Abu Adas, who claimed responsibility for the suicide attack on Hariri in an earlier video recording (2).
...The war of 2006
In July 2006 the 33-day war between Israel and Hizbullah erupted. The jihadist groups took advantage of the confusion to extend their influence. They also made use of the decision by the Islamic state in Iraq (instituted by al-Qaida) to expel any elements lacking specialist military skills or unable to blend in with the local population. Fatah al-Islam attracted many of these lost soldiers, prompting a hostile
response by Fatah and other groups belonging to the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, which wanted to "cleanse" the Ain al Hilweh camp. The Lebanese army, which had just deployed in force to the south of Litani following the end of the fighting between Hizbullah and Israel, was worried about leaving these jihadists only a short distance from the 12,000 strong UN Interim Force in Lebanon (Unifil). Fatah al-Islam decided to take refuge in the north, an area with a Sunni majority, considered friendly.
Several meetings paved the way for this move, not only with the local Salafists but also with members of parliament belonging to Saad Hariri's Future Movement, concerned about Hizbullah's growing influence. Al-Absi held talks with a Sunni MP from Tripoli, a doctor who once had leftwing sympathies and who expressed his fear that the Shia Hizbullah might turn on the Sunni (3). Al-Absi replied that, without entering into conflict with a force fighting Israel, he would not allow anyone to harm the Sunni.
...At the end of 2006 Ahmad Tuwaijiri, a senior Saudi al-Qaida member, arrived in Lebanon. He met Fatah al-Islam leaders several times, as well as other Salafist groups. Funding flowed in, with public and private donations from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait offered by prosperous businessmen who want to help the jihad.

The various Salafist organisations (4) were also keen to regroup, the better to resist the Shia threat. The political crisis in Lebanon and occasional clashes between Sunni and Shia, and between supporters of the parliamentary majority and opposition, created a favourable context (see "Why there is deadlock").
The local members of al-Qaida took advantage of the Future Movement's pressing need for militia to counterbalance Hizbullah. Although it appreciated the risks involved in dealing with fundamentalist factions, Hariri's party nevertheless adopted this short-term expedient in its struggle with Hizbullah, Syria and Iran. Al-Qaida acted pragmatically, seizing the opportunity to raise funds to recruit dozens of additional combatants, organise more training sessions at Ain al-Hilweh, prepare plans for attacking Unifil in the south, and spy on the embassies of western and Gulf countries in Beirut.

In June, a month after the fighting started, the Lebanese security forces discovered that Shahin was Saad bin Laden. He had managed to enter the camp a few days after the start of the battle and became popular with the combatants. The security forces had noticed his arrival in Lebanon a few months earlier. Saad, one of the most active leaders in the operations section of al-Qaida, had set up cells and support units all over Lebanon, in collaboration with al-Qaddur.

...Too high a price

However, as the political crisis in Lebanon grinds on, prompting all the factions to arm and train their combatants, al-Qaida may be able to lurk in the shadow of the largest Sunni group, the Future Movement, which is hiring combatants under the cover of private security companies. Hariri's organisation has so far assembled about 2,400 militia and plans to recruit 14,000 more in northern Lebanon alone. But the siege of Nahr al-Bared convinced part of Lebanon's Sunni elite that an alliance with al-Qaida came at too high a price.

...Will local groups claiming allegiance to al-Qaida agree to steer clear of Lebanese affairs? Whatever the answer, al-Qaida's future in Lebanon looks secure.
________________________________________________________ Fidaa Itani is a Beirut-based journalist
Translated by Harry Forster


francois said...

we are in deep shit in leb.

Our pb is that we lack of vision to handle not actual threats but future threats...

Sophia said...


Maybe this, as well as the Iraq War, are part of the Bad news project to counter 'biases' against israel in the media!

I wouldn't be surprised though

Since March 29th 2006