Ahmed al-Assir to be the New Islamic State Emir for Lebanon?

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Fugitive Salafi cleric, Ahmed al-Assir, preparing to give a speech in downtown Beirut on September 21, 2012.

By: Radwan Mortada

Published Friday, January 30, 2015

Is Ahmed al-Assir an emir in the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS)? The news might come as a shock at first, but anyone who traces the intellectual progression of the imam of the Bilal bin Rabah Mosque will realize that the man after the Abra clashes is not the same man he was before the clashes.

Reports that Assir is set to be appointed the emir of the Lebanese branch of the world’s most notorious extremist group have yet to be confirmed. What is certain, however, is that the man has been further radicalized since his disappearance, especially after he isolated himself from people as his diabetes continues to weigh down on him.

Months ago, there were reports from small Islamist circles claiming that Assir had become close to al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra Front. The reports asserted that the fugitive cleric conducted a self-assessment to correct his course, “which had many flaws” compared to the work of jihadi groups.

These reports were reinforced by Assir’s supporters pledging allegiance to al-Nusra, and by the warm welcome Assir received in the Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp. At the time, ISIS was not as notorious as it is today, or as notorious as al-Nusra. Further, a number of Assir’s followers had gone to fight in the ranks of al-Nusra in Qalamoun.

So what prompted Assir to switch his allegiance from Abu Mohammad al-Joulani to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi?

According to information obtained by Al-Akhbar, Assir began to “turn” several months ago, in parallel with a shift in his ideology and beliefs.

Although there are no confirmed reports regarding his whereabouts, security reports indicate he has fled to a town in the Bekaa, and — contrary to some rumors — is still in Lebanon. Other security sources are almost certain Assir is still in Ain al-Hilweh.

According to the same sources, the people betting on Assir being in the camp are affiliated with ISIS, most notably Naim al-Naim, Youssef Shabayta, and a man known as Abu Aisha. The sources say these individuals had a great influence on Assir, and perhaps managed to persuade him of the virtues of their ideological line.

Bear in mind that these three men are part of a group linked to ISIS in Ain al-Hilweh. The group also includes: Jamal Ramid know as al-Shishani, Shadi Sabha, Abu Hamza Mubarak, Abu Tareq Mubarak, and Mohammed Jomaa.

The sources went on to say that Assir’s ideas are not compatible with those of al-Nusra, even if the majority of his followers do not agree with ISIS. However, the sources reckoned that Assir’s popular base of support and his symbolic leadership among people from the city of Saida, as well as his notoriety in Lebanon, mean his allegiance to ISIS would give the group the chance to rally hundreds to its cause.

Accordingly, the sources believe it likely that he would be appointed emir of ISIS in Lebanon, which corroborates other security reports.

On the other hand, the leadership of ISIS has appointed Sheikh Abu Osama al-Baniasi as emir of the Qalamoun region, succeeding Abu Abdul-Salam al-Urdoni. Baniasi was close to Al-Nusra Front, similar to other ISIS emirs in this region like Abu Abdullah al-Iraqi, who was an associate of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and and the emir of Al-Nusra in Qalamoun Abu Malik al-Talli.

Al-Akhbar learned that Abu al-Walid al-Maqdisi, who was a delegate for Sharia matters sent by the leadership of IS in Raqqa, was excluded as a candidate for the post after he failed to unify the militants under one leadership. It is worth nothing that Maqdisi, who is Jordanian, is hostile to al-Nusra Front.

Follow Radwan Mortada on Twitter: @radwanmortada

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


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