ISIS in Lebanon: Lebanese Army a Target
By: Radwan Mortada
Published Monday, January 27, 2014
Three al-Qaeda-affiliated jihadi groups have declared war on Lebanon. In a single day, the trio delivered the opening salvo of their Lebanese campaign, issuing threats in what appeared to be coordinated statements.
Three prominent jihadi groups, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, al-Nusra Front in Lebanon, and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have now declared war on Lebanon. The three groups timed their announcements to take place on the same day.
Around noon on January 25, a recorded speech by Abu Sayyaf al-Ansari was broadcast, in which he pledged allegiance to ISIS. In the recording, Ansari also addressed clerics in Lebanon, especially the Muslim Scholars Association, warning them against stabbing the jihadis in the back. Ansari then gave a message to Sunnis enlisted with the “army of the cross,” a reference to the Lebanese army, calling on them to defect.
Shortly after Abu Sayyaf’s speech, Grad rockets were fired on Hermel, for which the Abdullah Azzam Brigades-affiliated Marwan Hadid Brigades and al-Nusra Front in Lebanon claimed joint responsibility. A statement subsequently issued by the brigades and al-Nusra in Lebanon said, “Our operations will continue to target the Safavid project and its arm in Syria and Lebanon, Iran’s party, to achieve two just goals: drive out the Iranian party from Syria and secure the release of Sunnis from the oppressive prisons of Lebanon.”
Assigning different roles among themselves, al-Nusra and the Abdullah Azzam Brigades focused their crosshairs on Hezbollah, demanding it withdraw from Syria. ISIS set its sights on, in addition to Hezbollah, “Rawafid, Nusairis, the army of the cross, and the descendants of the Salul clan,” pejorative references to Shia, Alawis, the Lebanese army, and the House of Saud, respectively. ISIS then declared, “After the banner of Islam extended from Iraq to the Levant, we have decided to pledge our allegiance from Tripoli, to be a gateway to Jerusalem from Lebanon.”
ISIS thus went well beyond the goal of forcing Hezbollah to withdraw from Syria to seek the enforcement of Sharia in Lebanon – the same stated goal for ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
According to exclusive information obtained by Al-Akhbar, ISIS attacks against Hezbollah will not be limited to Beirut’s southern suburb, but will also target areas loyal to Hezbollah in the Bekaa and South Lebanon, as well as Lebanese army targets. Jihadi sources told Al-Akhbar that the man known as Abu Omar al-Muhajir, who Abu Sayyaf said will be ISIS’ official spokesperson in Lebanon, is handling preparations for future attacks.
Also according to information obtained by Al-Akhbar, Abu Sayyaf is a Lebanese national. He was a key figure in Fatah al-Islam, and had taken part in the 2007 Nahr al-Bared conflict. Abu Sayyaf reportedly recorded his message in North Lebanon, not in the Ain al-Helweh refugee camp as rumored.
Sources said Abu Sayyaf began preparations for the pledge to ISIS about two months ago, reaching out through jihadi cells in Lebanon to jihadi organizations in Syria. From the outset, the goal of the contacts was to help ISIS expand into Lebanon.
In effect, the war declared on ISIS in Syria by other Syrian opposition factions accelerated the process of setting up a franchise in Lebanon. Despite rumors about disputes between ISIS, al-Nusra, and Abdullah Azzam Brigades, reports confirm that the three factions are cooperating in Lebanon, as evident from their coordinated operations. For instance, al-Nusra and Abdullah Azzam Brigades stage rocket attacks jointly, while ISIS’ statement read by Abu Sayyaf explicitly thanked Abdullah Azzam Brigades for “striking the Rawafid [Shia] in general and Hezbollah in particular,” in reference to the Iranian embassy bombing.
In the same vein, Al-Akhbar has learned that the three jihadi factions are coordinating among themselves in bombings carried out in Lebanon, using the same group of people to rig cars to explode in the Syrian city of Rankous.
Meanwhile, the security services are concerned about the magnitude of attacks being planned to take place on Lebanese soil, which could target Lebanese army positions and checkpoints. Concrete fortifications have been installed around checkpoints in Beirut’s southern suburb as a countermeasure, in addition to taking exceptional security arrangements around the Defense Ministry in Yarzeh.
Making matters worse is the fact that the factions in question have exceptional expertise in explosives. Security services are also concerned that the official inauguration of an ISIS branch in Lebanon could attract foreign jihadis to a new arena for jihad – Lebanon – to fight Hezbollah.
Sunni Clerics Urge Release of Bombing Suspect
The Muslim Scholars Association, which represents Sunni clerics, continued to lobby for the release of Omar al-Atrash, who remains in custody. The clerics denounced what they called the arbitrary arrest, and said that it is often the case that people arrested amid media frenzy are soon found to be innocent.
After a meeting at al-Azhar University in the Bekaa, the clerics staged a protest near the Ministry of Defense. They agreed to end their protest after they were given appointments at the ministry.
Meanwhile, sources said that investigations with Atrash were proceeding in total secrecy, to avoid any undesired interferences. On January 26, al-Jadeed TV reported that Atrash had confessed to recruiting suicide bombers, and to having received cars rigged with explosives bound for Dahiyeh.
Quoting unnamed sources, al-Jadeed said that because of his confessions and evidence, Atrash would not have any political protection, unlike previous suspects who had been released due to political pressure. This has prompted Atrash’s supporters to attempt to secure religious and sectarian leverage for him.
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This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.