Lebanon: A ‘great battle’ with jihadis looms following battles in Tripoli

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Lebanese soldiers detain a man suspected of secretly taking photos of Lebanese Armed Forces bases, after raiding an apartment in Lebanon's northern port city of Tripoli on October 26, 2014. (Photo: AFP-Ibrahim Chalhoub)

By: Radwan Mortada

Published Monday, October 27, 2014

With a push of a button, Tripoli was ignited. It is the usual suspects. At first glance, the militants seem to be fighting a losing battle. But the distribution of roles among the anti-army militant groups suggests there is something else being prepared in secret.

“These are the early signs of a great battle in Lebanon,” says an Islamist leader in response to a question about the events in Tripoli.

True, this sounds like an exaggeration, especially since security indications suggest the number of committed militants prepared to fight such a battle in the north does not exceed a few dozens, if Syrian refugees willing to take up arms are discounted. Moreover, public opinion in Tripoli and north Lebanon has overwhelmingly sided with the army and distanced itself from the militants, at least during the clashes that erupted over the past two days.

However, an Islamist source, who is close to al-Nusra Front, has a different opinion. He says that what happened before is different from what is going to happen next, revealing that Sheikh Abu Malek al-Talli is personally behind the events in the north, and that notorious Islamists Shadi Mawlawi and Osama Mansour have now pledged allegiance to al-Nusra Front, of which Talli is the emir in the Syrian Qalamoun region straddling the border with Lebanon.

As proof, the Islamist source cites the audio recording made by Mawlawi, in which he said that he had agreed with his associates to hand over kidnapped soldier Fayez al-Ammouri, but that Abu Malek refused, a decision Mawlawi has chosen to obey. Regarding what the Muslim Scholars Association has been saying about the possibility of a truce, the source said this would not last for long before confrontations erupt again – an assessment corroborated by the recent escalation led by al-Nusra Front and the Abdullah Azzam Brigades in the Qalamoun region.

Al-Nusra Front and the Abdullah Azzam Brigades are working together in Lebanon. Al-Nusra Front has been using the kidnapped soldiers it is holding hostage as leverage, while Abdullah Azzam Brigades has declared, through Sheikh Sirajuddin Zureiqat, the beginnings of a “Sunni uprising to uproot injustice.”

According to sources, the rebels in Qalamoun intend to join forces to attack the villages of the northern Bekaa. The same sources said that what is happening in North Lebanon is an attempt to distract the army in urban warfare while portraying it as hostile to the Sunnis.

The scenario where an Islamic emirate is declared in the north remains a major concern for the security services. Regarding the spark that ignited the battles in Tripoli, security sources point out a tip off from an informant revealed 20 days ago that the so-called alleyway commanders in Tripoli had met to discuss rehearsing their deployment near Lebanese army positions, based on the orders of Abu Malek al-Talli.

Reports indicate the army moved in accordance with this tip. Reports also suggest Ahmed Salim Mikati was arrested by coincidence, when the phone of fugitive soldier Abdul-Qader al-Akoumi, which was under surveillance, was activated briefly, helping the authorities track him down. According to the sources, Mikati’s capture brought the jihadis’ deployment plan forward.

Accordingly, Islamist cleric Sheikh Khaled Hoblos called for a Sunni revolution at al-Taqwa Mosque in Tripoli. Around 30 militants in Bab al-Tabbaneh and Zahrieh districts affiliated to Shadi Mawlawi, Oussama Mansour, Ahmad Kasha, and Abdullah al-Jaghbir aka Abu Hajar responded to Sheikh Hoblos’ appeal. In the meantime, an army patrol happened to pass by, and was targeted by the angry militants, and clashes ensued. The militants then withdrew in the direction of the old souks.

According to Islamist sources, the family of the detained Mikati received a phone call from an unknown number, telling them that Abu Huda, as he is known, had died under torture at the Defense Ministry, asking them to come on the following day to take his body.

It should be noted that Abu Huda Mikati is affiliated to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Reports indicate that ISIS had recently appointed an emir in Lebanon whom Mikati pledged allegiance to, though his identity remains secret for security reasons. The emir in question is reportedly previously unknown in Lebanon. It should also be noted that al-Nusra Front and ISIS fighters seem to be working together in Lebanon, making it difficult in many instances to determine which group a given militant belongs to.

The groups fighting in the north can be broken down as follows:

In Zahrieh, Souk al-Hadid and Souk al-Nahhassin remain under army control, while the militants have spread in al-Arid Street, Souk al-Kindarjieh, Souk al-Dahab, and al-Baleh, behind the Grand Mosque.

In Zahrieh as well, the group operating under the command of Sheikh Hoblos, who is reportedly very close to al-Nusra Front, staged attacks against Lebanese army soldiers.

And in Bab al-Tabbaneh, groups operating under the command of Mansour, Mawlawi, and Abu Hureira al-Mikati – son of detained Islamist Abu Bakr al-Mikati – attacked the army along with dozens of Syrians who had pledged allegiance to Talli.

In light of the type and quantity of weapons seized in Haroun Mosque and Bab al-Tabbaneh, the army decided to cut off the road between Deir Ammar and al-Abdeh completely.

This unprecedented measure, according to sources in Tripoli, prevented any Syrians from coming into the city, whether their papers were legal or not. Checkpoints were also established in the city, all to prevent Syrian refugees, who would be initially unarmed, from joining the clashes where they would be supplied with weapons. The army’s suspicions were confirmed when it discovered a weapons cache behind the Anwar prayer hall containing 29 RPGs, 20 PK machine guns, 50 AK-47s, and various types of grenades, explosive devices, and ammunition.

In light of these rapid developments in the north, radical Islamist leaders are recalling the conflict in the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp six years ago. They speak of the “betrayal” of the Tripolitan street and clerics against Fatah al-Islam, and argue that both the Lebanese army and the militant groups are keen to win over the support of the northern population and gain a “nurturing environment” in its ranks.

Follow Radwan Mortada on Twitter: @radwanmortada

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Comments

They are all fighting to gain control of the honey pot.
They want control
Of what (?)
There is no wealth to fight & die for
Land - they want the land - right "but who would want to languish in a dead town / city & who would want the responsibility of defending a piece of dirt in the hot sun - but an idiot"
Just print some money & move on
Everyone else in the world is doing it
Max Keiser say it of Jamie Diamon constantly
If he can do it so can anyone.

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