Unconventional thinking about the Middle East.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Al-Qaeda in Lebanon

Hazim Al-Amin does some fine reporting on Al-Qaeda’s operations (specifically the Zarqawi franchise) in Lebanon through two pieces published in Al-Hayat Newspaper on January 26 and 27. Although I believe, as Amin himself suggests towards the very end, that he has only managed to scratch the surface, I was fascinated by the new information he brings to light on “Abu Muhammad Al-Lubnani,” who became one of Zarqawi’s chief aides in Iraq and was subsequently killed in late summer 2005.

What caught my interest was that Al-Lubnani, whose real name is Mustafa Ramadhan, is actually an ethnic Kurd from Beirut, with a past as a drunkard and hoodlum. He had married a lady from the conservative Sunni enclave of Mejdel ‘Anjar in Lebanon’s far north in the late 1980s, and immigrated to Denmark. Lubnani returned three years ago in the garb of a zealous Salafist, and advocated for jihad, according to Amin’s reporting. He managed to win over some recruits in Mejdel Anjar, and went off to Iraq with his 16 year-old son, Muhammad, who was killed shortly before his father expired.

People familiar with my writings on the Hariri assassination would know that I’ve had a hard time accepting the scenario of Syrian culpability as laid out in the Mehlis report. My own hypothesis—something completely outside the mainstream it should be noted to people unfamiliar with the details—had been leaning towards suspecting a hand for Al-Qaeda in the murder of the ex-Lebanese PM. Furthermore, at one point I developed a gut instinct that involved Walid Junbulatt in the affair (see intro to blog). This latter suspicion led me to the trail of a group of Lebanese Kurds who did plenty of the dirty work for Junbulatt during the civil war years, and who later joined the jihadists in Afghanistan. I have been unable to find out more about them.

This new information on Abu Mohammad Al-Lubnani’s background, namely that he is a Kurd, offers a tantalizing probable link between ex-PSP thugs and Al-Qaeda in Lebanon. Whoever killed Hariri, and orchestrated the subsequent campaign of terror, must have had insider information on the comings and goings of the various targets. Syria and its acolytes in Lebanon would certainly be privy to such information, but Al-Qaeda wouldn’t. Unless Al-Qaeda was plugged into the Lebanese political elite somehow, either by getting the information indirectly via the Syrians (unlikely, since the whole raison d’etre of Al-Qaeda in Lebanon is to bring down the Syrian regime) or directly from a network of acquaintances who handle security for this political elite.

Those PSP Kurds turned jihadists could be the key to this secret information channel, not to mention terrorist know-how and access to explosives. Interested parries should also look into a possible role, if any, for Syrian terrorist Abul Ghadieh Al-Souri, another Zarqawi aide killed in June 2005. I'd wager that the multi-talented Al-Souri was the mastermind behind establishing Al-Qaeda's recruiting/funding/operations network in Lebanon and Syria.

The recent arrest of an Al-Qaeda ring in Trablous, the northern Lebanese city that figures prominently in the planning phase of the Hariri murder, was also reported with a juicy tidbit: several members (most of whom were not Lebanese) were affiliated with Khalid Taha, a Palestinian jihadist who is cited in the Mehlis report as the person who had escorted suspected suicide bomber Ahmad Abu Ades to Syria two weeks before the Hariri assassination.

There is more here for Mehlis’ successor to investigate.

NB: yet another Mehlis witness had recanted his testimony in the past month, and was placed under arrest for ‘misleading’ the international investigation. Ibrahim Jarjoureh, a Syrian, followed Hosam Hosam’s footsteps and blabbed to New TV, but apparently could not make it over the border in time before his arrest warrant was delivered. Very little has been reported in the US press on this matter, something to ponder as Washington fetes Saad Hariri, and loads up his wagon with empty promises. The Lebanese file is being dealt with very superficially by the Bush administration, which seems oblivious to charged sectarian atmosphere there. But who in this town will take responsibility for the chaos and mess that would follow an Al-Qaeda-Hezbollah flare-up? Sounds outlandish? Well, keep watching.

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