New Al-Qaeda Branch Rears its Head in Lebanon
In a seven minute tape released today, a young man claiming to be the Military Commander of a newly established Al-Qaeda franchise calling itself ‘Al-Qaeda in the Levant’ (…best translation from the Arabic: alqa’eda fi bilad alsham القاعدة في بلاد الشام) threatened Lebanon’s Christians of drowning them in “seas of blood” if the Lebanese Army does not call off its attack on the Nahr al-Barid Palestinian refugee camp north of Tripoli.
The ‘Military Commander’ did not even offer us a pseudonym, and the overall feel of the tape was amateurish. I believe that this is the first time that any organization calling itself by this name has issued a taped broadcast that is in keeping with usual hallmark of Al-Qaeda’s propaganda style.
But the message was important: Al-Qaeda in the Levant feels compelled to come to the defense of the Fatih al-Islam organization (headed by ‘Abu Hussein’, Shakir al-‘Absi) and the Palestinians residing in the camp, and is threatening anti-Christian sectarian violence.
The tape begins with a long lament over the living conditions of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon who, among other things, are not allowed to own property—“not even a cemetery to bury their dead in.” The Military Commander highlights the sectarian reasons behind keeping the Palestinians in such a lowly state: to provide cheap labor for Christian capitalists such as the Murr family and others, and because “of the Sunni and jihadist nature” of the Palestinians who would tip the demographic scales in favor of Sunnism within Lebanon should their numbers be naturalized as Lebanese citizens—a common refrain that’s been heard since the 1960s and in part led to the initial tensions of the Lebanese civil war.
The commander goes on to say that the Shi’ites and Christians have exploited an “apparent Sunni weakness”—a probable reference to the political paralysis of the Hariri bloc—to attack Fatih al-Islam in “the city of clerics and mujaheddin, Tripoli” and that this attack was fanned by the “fiery statements” of the likes of the “Jewish agent, the treacherous head of the Lebanese Forces,” a reference to Samir Gaegae, and “the ally of the majus, the hateful Crusader who strives to take over Lebanon, Michel Aoun”—majus is a pejorative term employed by anti-Shi'a jihadists as a reference to what they allege are the pagan and Persian roots of Shi’ism; Aoun is a political ally of Shi’i Hezbollah.
The ‘Military Commander’ directs a message to “the head of Christianity in Lebanon, that sneaky Maronite Sfeir” (Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir) to “call off your dogs” or else “there will be no sanctuary for Christians in Lebanon after today.” And if this demand is not fulfilled then “we will rip your hearts out with explosives and besiege your places with detonations and target all your business concerns starting with tourism…for you have declared it a Crusader campaign and we welcome the fight.”
The ‘Military Commander’ demands that the “Christian leader of the Lebanese Army” should withdraw his men from the vicinity of the Nahr al-Barid (he makes a mistake by calling it ‘Ain al-Barid) camp, and counsels the Christians to “return to their senses” because they live in a Sunni medium that will drown them out if they persist in their obstinacy.
I believe that this is the real deal, and I’ve been waiting for an Al-Qaeda presence in Lebanon, something that I’ve suspected has been around for a long time (over two years) and specifically of the Zarqawi variety, to make itself known. I’m personally not convinced that Fatih al-Islam is a real and independent jihadist organization, and I believe they are manipulated by a regional intelligence agency. But these recent clashes, which have all the marks of overreach on both Fatih al-Islam’s side and that of the Lebanese government’s and hence were unplanned for such a scale of strife, have created an opportunity for chaos that an ‘Al-Qaeda in the Levant’-like organization may want to exploit and enlarge in order to function more openly, and with more maneuverability, within and around Lebanon. And needless to say, an early and conclusive quelling of a jihadist challenge—though it may originate from a bogus organization such as Fatih al-Islam—by a confident Lebanese state would not be helpful for the image and prospects of a successful jihad to be launched at a later stage by other jihadist groups in that country.
The next danger signs to watch are the following: how will the Franjiyeh partisans in Zgherta respond to this Sunni threat next door (…they may want to seize upon it and set off clashes in order to make the Sunnis in government, principally Hariri’s man Siniora, look bad and consequently break off chunks of the Sunni-Maronite alliance to Gaegae’s detriment), and whether there will be flashpoints among Sunnis and ‘Alawites around Tripoli and in the few villages of ‘Akkar were ‘Alawites predominate.