by Michael J. Totten
It was bound to happen sooner or later. Al Qaeda has moved into Lebanon.
Fatah al-Islam terrorists in the Palestinian Nahr al-Bared refugee camp (which is an urban ghetto in Tripoli, not a tent city) are, reportedly, mostly not Palestinian. No one has suffered more from Lebanon’s worst fighting since the civil war ended than the Palestinian civilians of Nahr al-Bared. After decades as second-class non-citizens living in dejection and squalor, they are now human shields in a battle between foreign terrorists and the host country.
Lebanon’s freshest and most vicious of enemies have, if reports are correct, arrived from battlefields in Iraq via Syria. Their relationship with the Syrian state and Al Qaeda is murky and hard to sort out, but they do seem to have connections of some kind to both.
An Nahar reports that mosques there now are dual-use. They are places in which to pray. They are also armed camps. They are also, possibly, terrorist targets. Suicide bombers reportedly detonated themselves at the Thawra mosque. Perhaps someone ignited himself a little too early. Maybe the keepers of that mosque were hostile to Fatah al-Islam. I do not know.
The Lebanese Army is clearing the “camp” of terrorists, booby-traps, car bombs, and even domestic animals rigged with explosives. The government says there will be no negotiated truce with the enemy, that their crimes will be punished with the death penalty either in combat or later in prison. It has been years, decades really, since the government and army of Lebanon have shown this kind of resolve.
They had better keep up the resolve. This crisis may be nearing its end, but it could just as easily be merely the opening shots. Jund al-Sham (The Greater Syrian Army) has gone on full alert in the Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp, Lebanon’s largest, outside the Sunni city of Saida south of Beirut. And Al Qaeda has published a most sinister threat to Lebanon on its Web site. (Via Evan Kohlmann at the Counterterrorism Blog.)
On May 25, 2007, copies of a new video recording were publicly distributed over password-protected Al-Qaida Internet websites after being authenticated by the pre-eminent Al-Fajr Media Center. The seven-minute recording contains a speech by a masked individual identifying himself only as the “military commander of Al-Qaida’s Committee in Al-Shams” (“Greater Syria”). This is the first known occasion that any individual or organization inside of Lebanon has explicitly identified themselves as part of the international Al-Qaida terrorist network. The speaker addresses a message directly to the Patriarch of the Christian Maronite church in Lebanon: “pull back your dogs from our people, and cease your artillery fire—or else, from today onwards, there will be no safe place for any crusader in Lebanon, and as you strike, we will strike… If you do not stop, we will tear your hearts out with explosives, and surround your every post with our bombs. We will target your entire economy, starting with tourism and ending with all the incoming resources you [received when you] launched this new crusader war… We have ignored you previously, but we give you this final warning that from now on, an ocean of blood will be spilled.”
Lebanon is a weak and divided country. It is also, by far, and despite Hezbollah’s presence, the most liberal and democratic of all Arab countries. More than two thirds of the people who live there (Christians, Shias, and Druze) are considered infidels fit for slaughter by the salafist groups. A large percentage of Sunnis, in Beirut especially, are irreligious and bourgeois and modern. I, for one, am surprised it took Al Qaeda so long to move on them.
UPDATE: The Lebanese Army foiled so-called Plan 755 which, reportedly, was a plot by Tripoli’s salafists to massacre local civilians, sever the city’s links to Beirut, and enslave the residents who couldn’t get out.
UPDATE: Lebanese troops are preparing to storm Nahr al Bared and finish off the terrorists once and for all.
UPDATE: The Lebanese Army says they nailed a Fatah Al Islam cell that would have “caused destruction similar to the 9/11 attacks in the United States.” That sounds like an exagerration to me — the Twin Towers were bigger and more concentrated with people by far than anything in Lebanon — but of course I do not have the details. The explosives found were reportedly imported from Syria. Presumably this was to be part of so-called Plan 755, but it involved Beirut as well as Tripoli.
UPDATE: Beirut’s Daily Star reports that the military has been given “a green light to deal with the security crisis without state interference.”
UPDATE: Fighting has broken out between the Lebanese Army and the Jund Al Sham (the Greater Syrian Army) at the Ain El Hilweh refugee camp.
UPDATE: Fatah Al Islam’s “9/11 in Lebanon” attack would have destroyed a large hotel in Beirut with four simultaneous truck bombs, blown up embassies on both sides of the city, and collapsed a tunnel.
Syria’s involvement in this particular plan is unclear at this point, but will no doubt be investigated, especially since this entire crisis coincides precisely with the timing of the Chapter 7 UN Tribunal.
Syria threatened to set Lebanon and the region on fire if the tribunal was enacted.
UPDATE: Beirut’s Michael Young writes about Syria’s useful idiots in the Wall Street Journal.