Wadi Khaled: al-Nusra Front and March 14 Form Bonds

A villager inspects a damaged van in Wadi Khaled town after shelling by Syrian forces towards villagers' houses, in north Lebanon 24 February 2013. (Photo: Reuters - Roula Naeimeh)

Published Thursday, March 7, 2013

In Lebanon’s northeastern Wadi Khaled, one finds what could be called the extension of al-Nusra Front inside March 14. Under the pretext of toppling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the Phalanges’ homebase of Bikfaya and the Lebanese Forces’ homebase of Maarab are both creating links with extremists.

It begins in Roumieh prison. Reports indicate that the prison has become a factory of sorts for manufacturing new types of Islamist groups.

The latest such incident occurred when Bilal A.J.K., from the village of Rajm Issa and imprisoned for his affiliations with Fatah al-Islam, met with a Libyan Muslim Brotherhood supporter going by the name of Bashti. Upon leaving prison, Bilal formed the first Libyan-type Brotherhood group in Wadi Khaled under the directions of Bashti.

The group communicates with al-Qaeda using the Thuraya satellite phone network. It recruited around 30 members throughout the villages of Rajm Issa, Rajm Hussein, and Rajm Khalaf. The most prominent members are F.S., Rabih B., and Khaled A.J.

Since its inception several months ago, the group has been busy training and preparing, in addition to participating in fighting in Tal Kalakh and al-Qasir in Syria. Its operations in the Homs countryside are coordinated by Khaled A.J., a former fighter in Baba Amro who has links with both former Colonel Amid Hammoud, commander of al-Ansar group, and the Salafi Omar M., AKA Omar Ajaj.

Khaled’s mission focuses on sending fighters to al-Qasir and Tal Kalakh to conduct military operations and providing them with shelter at bases in Wadi Khaled.

Another group in the region is led by a Lebanese MP. Mustafa A.H. from Knayseh, who holds Lebanese nationality, is the commander, but his brother carries Syrian nationality and is the mayor of the Syrian village of Bouit.

The latter was in charge of smuggling defecting Syrian army soldiers and officers into Wadi Khaled. He was recently arrested by Syrian authorities once they uncovered his activities.

The third group in Wadi Khaled is a branch of al-Ansar, which presents itself as the “military wing” of the Future Movement and is led by Colonel Hammoud. The group is under the command of Ahmed A.D.S. from the town of Hnaider, assisted by Haitham R.S. from Rajm Hussein.

Its base is located in the Wadi Sarhan region between Rajm Khalaf in Lebanon and Bouit in Syria, and serves as a training camp for the Free Syrian Army.

For a while, the groups were under the supervision of Colonel Abdullah al-Khatbi, a Syrian army defector. He later had to relocate to Tripoli due to security reasons, where he now lives in an apartment rented by Hammoud in the annexed area of the city.

To disguise his movement between Tripoli and Wadi Khaled, Khatbi has used a car with blue license plates belonging to a Lebanese MP. He is the brother-in-law of the Future Movement official A.M., AKA Broken Amer, who hosted him after he fled Syria.

The Lebanese Forces and the Phalanges

Mahmoud N. is the commander of a group linked to the Lebanese Forces in Wadi Khaled. He was active logistically within the Salafi offensive under the pretext of “solidarity” with the Syrian opposition in its attempt to topple Assad.

The group consists of about 40 men and has a clandestine office at Mahmoud’s own home in al-Maslabiyeh. According to people close to his circles, he is known to have an old relationship with the US Embassy in Beirut and is in regular communication with Maarab’s security chief.

Another group in the area is linked to the Phalanges, acting in support of the Syrian opposition and led by a Phalangist regional official called Mohammed I. He is linked to MP Sami Gemayel and is assisted by his brother Ahmed. The Phalanges have around 80 individuals active in Wadi Khaled.

The mission undertaken by the Lebanese Forces and the Phalanges is related to monitoring the borders, collecting information on Syrian army deployments, and facilitating the work of the FSA.

It should be noted that arms smuggling routes in the region pass through the Nsoub crossing in Mount Akroum-Bouit and the Shabieh crossing in al-Hisheh. The smugglers only need to cross the river to arrive at the Homs highway.

(Al-Akhbar)

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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