Lebanon: Security Forces Target Al-Qaeda in Ain Al-Helweh

Al-Akhbar is currently going through a transitional phase whereby the English website is available for Archival purposes only. All new content will be published in Arabic on the main website (www.al-akhbar.com).

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All this is still in the realm of suspicion without any hard evidence. (Photo: Marwan Tahtah)

By: Radwan Mortada

Published Tuesday, December 3, 2013

After the twin suicide bombing near the Iranian embassy in Beirut in mid-November, all eyes turned to Saida’s Ain al-Helweh Palestinian refugee camp, where many al-Qaeda affiliates have been hiding out.

Although the Iranian ambassador in Lebanon blamed Israel for the suicide attack on his country’s embassy, those under suspicion of having carried out the bombing are al-Qaeda elements active between Syria and Lebanon.

The security forces immediately set their eyes on the South Lebanon Ain al-Helweh camp, home to the al-Qaeda-affiliated Abdullah Azzam Brigades, which claimed responsibility for the operation. Sheikh Tawfik Taha, who lives in the camp, was among the top suspects, as initial reports suggested that a sheikh in the camp helped the bombers get their false identification cards.

All this is still in the realm of suspicion without any hard evidence, but it is reinforced by a stream of information about the presence of jihadi elements in the camp that are planning attacks against Hezbollah and Iranian targets due to their involvement in fighting alongside the regime in Syria.

All of this led to a state of heightened activity by the Lebanese security forces around Ain al-Helweh, prompting one officer to say that if in fact extremists in the camp were involved in the attack, then “this will be very costly to the residents of the camp, for neither Hezbollah nor Iran will allow this to pass.”

A security source revealed to Al-Akhbar, “A clear message was sent to the prominent Palestinian factions in Ain al-Hilweh to deal with Taha and his group,” adding that a security operation inside the camp is being seriously considered if the sheikh and his men are not expelled soon.

Individuals close to al-Qaeda confirmed as much in a conversation with Al-Akhbar, insisting that it was Hezbollah’s entering the war in Syria that made them and the Shia enemy number one. “This mistake transformed the struggle from one against the Jewish enemy and its American backer to an open confrontation with the Shia,” one local al-Qaeda activist maintained.

There are, however, doubts about whether those who declared responsibility for the attack were in fact the perpetrators, given the method by which it was announced. It’s unusual for al-Qaeda groups to claim responsibility for an attack through a virtually unknown personality like Sheikh Sirajuddin Zureiqat, who made the announcement on his Twitter account.

As for Sheikh Taha, al-Qaeda affiliates in the camp insist that neither he nor the Abdullah Azzam Brigades had anything to do with the attack. They claim that the sheikh himself said as much in a number of meetings before other Islamist activists in the camp.

Asked why Taha has not issued a statement denying his involvement, they simply reply that the sheikh does not like the media, and it is enough that he maintained his innocence on more than one occasion. The sources conclude by saying they will not endanger the camp in any way, and are even willing to leave so as to avoid bringing any harm to the camp.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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