Conflict with the Sunnis, who constitute the majority of all Muslims in the Middle East and around the world, is a scenario that severely undermines the long-term interests of Lebanese Hizb Allah. Not only would such a religious war be a costly distraction from the military struggle against Israel, but it would also be a strategic blunder because of its likely effects of endangering Hizb Allah’s Shi`a support base and consequently threatening the organization’s existence.[1] For the past decade, however, Hizb Allah has failed to fend off the specter of sectarian war, provoking and alienating the Lebanese Sunni community.[2] Yet it is Hizb Allah’s military intervention in Syria, designed to prevent the collapse of an allied Syrian government and to maintain vital supply lines, that constitutes the most serious and immediate action that could precipitate Sunni-Shi`a conflict in Lebanon.

While it is evident that Sunni-Shi`a tensions in Lebanon and the Middle East have risen partly because of the Syrian crisis, it is less clear how the Syrian spillover has radicalized larger parts of Lebanon’s Sunni Islamist community.[3] Sunni militancy is no stranger to Lebanon’s landscape, having existed in several forms since the 1970s. Over the years, it has sporadically caused bouts of violence and criminal activity in the northern region and in the Palestinian refugee camps.[4]

The deadliest encounter between Lebanese authorities and Sunni militancy occurred in the summer of 2007 when the Lebanese army was forced to destroy the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared to eradicate the threat of Fatah al-Islam, a Salafi-jihadi group that was growing in size and influence in the northern part of the country.[5] The most recent violent clash between the Lebanese army and Salafi-jihadis, however, occurred in Abra, a neighborhood in the southern city of Sidon, in late June 2013.[6] Lebanese Salafist Shaykh Ahmad al-Assir, along with several of his armed followers, ambushed a Lebanese army checkpoint on June 23, causing a two-day battle that killed 17 Lebanese soldiers and dozens of al-Assir’s gunmen.[7] Al-Assir’s fighting force was ultimately defeated and the Lebanese army took control of his security compound, but the shaykh himself supposedly managed to escape. His whereabouts are still unknown.[8]

This article provides an assessment of the effects of the war in Syria on the growth trajectory of Lebanon’s Salafi-jihadis, clarifying the old and new actors, their clout in the north and in the Palestinian refugee camps, and their military involvement in Syria. It also looks specifically at the case of Ahmad al-Assir, assessing the implications of his recent rise and fall in Abra. The article finds that despite increased Sunni-Shi`a tensions and political polarization in Lebanon due to the Syrian crisis and sectarian violence in the Middle East, and despite a leadership void in the Lebanese Sunni political class, Salafi-jihadis still do not enjoy a popular following among Lebanese Sunnis. Indeed, their presence consists of cells and small groups, not a large and armed social movement that has attained insurgent status. Nevertheless, Hizb Allah’s intervention in Syria is a powerful catalyst for the radicalization of larger parts of the Sunni Islamist and specifically Salafist communities in Lebanon. This radicalization process could threaten Hizb Allah and potentially bring about Sunni-Shi`a conflict in Lebanon.

Evidence of Jabhat al-Nusra Activity in Lebanon
As the war in Syria rages, there is growing evidence of Salafi-jihadi activity in Lebanon. Al-Monitor reported in April 2013 that “it can no longer be denied that Jabhat al-Nusra[9] has found fertile ground in the Palestinian refugee camps in [Lebanon], among the nearly one million Syrian refugees there, as well as in Lebanese Sunni areas, especially in northern Lebanon near the Syrian border.”[10] In July 2013, Lebanon’s military charged six alleged members of Jabhat al-Nusra with forming an armed gang with the intent to conduct terrorist attacks in Lebanon.[11]

Five months earlier, in February 2013, Lebanon’s al-Akhbar newspaper published a report claiming that Salafi-jihadis in Lebanon could be close to establishing a Jabhat al-Nusra branch in the country.[12] Al-Akhbar journalist Nasser Sharara claimed that “H.A. Dargham,” a Lebanese man, proclaimed to his followers in February that the creation of the Lebanese branch of Jabhat al-Nusra was drawing near.[13] According to the report, the site of Dargham’s pronouncement was in the town of Arsal, located in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley near the Syrian border, a Hizb Allah stronghold.[14] According to the Lebanese military intelligence services, who were cited in the al-Akhbar report, Dargham is also an associate of Khaled Hamid who is reported to be a major “logistical facilitator” between Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria and its allies in Lebanon’s north and in the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain al-Hilwah in Sidon, including Fatah al-Islam[15] and Jund al-Sham.[16]

The idea of a Lebanese branch of Jabhat al-Nusra reportedly started with the Saudi national Majid bin Muhammad al-Majid, the amir of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades.[17] In June 2012, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades announced that al-Majid was their leader, and that the group supports the revolution in Syria.[18] Yet the al-Akhbar report in February 2013—which has not been corroborated by other sources—claimed that al-Majid traveled from Ain al-Hilwah to Syria in late 2011 along with cadres from Fatah al-Islam and Jund al-Sham for the purpose of reportedly dethroning Abu Muhammad al-Julani, the head of Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria, and replacing him as the amir (leader).[19] A sizeable but unspecified number of his comrades, however, defected from his ranks during travel for unknown reasons, and joined al-Julani instead, forcing al-Majid to return to Ain al-Hilwah.[20] According to the report, these skilled fighters later trained al-Julani’s forces, ultimately helping to make his Jabhat al-Nusra the most effective and resourceful actor in the Syrian militant opposition.[21]

If a Lebanese branch of Jabhat al-Nusra were to be formed today, it would likely be composed of two main battalions: an Ain al-Hilwah battalion and a Tripoli battalion.[22]

The Ain al-Hilwah battalion would probably include the remaining cadres and fighters of Fatah al-Islam and Jund al-Sham, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades and the Platoons of Ziad al-Jarrah.[23] The gradual weakening of the secular Palestinian party Fatah in Ain al-Hilwah has allowed these Salafi-jihadi entities to increase their presence and mobilize greater numbers of men from the al-Ta’mir area of the camp, also at the expense of older and larger Sunni Islamist Palestinian factions such as Asbat al-Ansar,[24] Ansar Allah,[25] Hamas, and al-Haraka al-Islamiyya al-Mujahida,[26] which are described by these extremist groups as more “moderate” and insufficiently committed to supporting the jihad in Syria.[27]

As for the “Tripoli battalion,” it would likely comprise militants who follow Lebanese Sunni Shaykh Hussam Sabbagh.[28] Sabbagh has reportedly helped smuggle militants across the border into Syria, and he has fought with Jabhat al-Nusra rebels against the al-Assad regime in Syria.[29] According to Lebanon’s Daily Star, “The Nusra Front and other Syrian Islamist fighting groups now use him [Sabbagh] as their foremost representative in Lebanon, and [Sabbagh] coordinates between various groups who hope to establish an Islamic emirate in Tripoli.”[30] He has approximately 250 followers.[31]

Fatah al-Islam Still Active
Since Jund al-Sham and Fatah al-Islam would likely be incorporated into a Lebanese branch of Jabhat al-Nusra—or another Salafi-jihadi entity in Lebanon—it is worth assessing their current capabilities. Other than being accurately labeled by Lebanon commentators as freelance jihadist fighters lacking any organizational structure or modus vivendi, not much else is known about the current state of Jund al-Sham. The group used to be part of the larger and much more influential Asbat al-Ansar until several members defected due to differences over ideology, politics, and jihadist strategy and priorities.[32] Today, Jund al-Sham likely consists of a small group of fighters who are “looking for action and trouble and the right opportunity to merge with a like-minded movement,” as one Lebanese internal security officer told this author over the telephone in May 2013.[33]

It is Fatah al-Islam that may have to do the heavy lifting should Salafi-jihadis in Lebanon coordinate their activities. Knowing the devastating losses it suffered in the battle of Nahr al-Bared in the summer of 2007, one would think that Fatah al-Islam is defunct or poses a marginal security threat.[34] That would be a false conclusion. Although the group’s organizational structure was crushed, most of its members killed or jailed (some fled), and its size and influence much reduced, it still has a presence in Lebanon in the form of scattered cells, most notably in the north, as well as in Ain al-Hilwah and ironically Roumieh, Lebanon’s largest prison.[35]

There are a number of ways that the group has managed to survive and stay active during the past couple of years—even from behind bars in Roumieh. Of the 480 people suspected of involvement in the Nahr al-Bared battle, more than 200 are being held in Roumieh.[36] Members of Fatah al-Islam, who number 88 according to court reports and the Lebanese Judicial Council, are among the most problematic and powerful prisoners at Roumieh.[37] Small in number compared to others, they are the strongest physically, and the most influential and resourceful.[38]

Perhaps more consequential than Fatah al-Islam’s presence inside Roumieh is the group’s ability to communicate with Salafi-jihadi fighters operating in Lebanon and Syria, as well as manage its remaining cadre. Although prisoners in general have mobile telephones at their disposal in Roumieh, Islamists, and Fatah al-Islam members particularly, carry laptops, allowing them to publish statements on Islamist online forums.[39]

Several escapes and foiled attempts by ordinary criminals and Salafi-jihadis from Roumieh have been reported over the years. Perhaps the single most important incident, other than the case of Walid al-Bustani,[40] occurred in mid-2012, when five prisoners—four of whom were Fatah al-Islam members—escaped using sheets to scale the prison wall. Muhammad Abdullah al-Dousari, also known as “Abu Talha al-Kuwaiti,” led the group of four and was described by Lebanese media in December 2012 as “the ambassador of al-Qa`ida in Lebanon.”[41] The three others were Abdullah al-Shukri and Abdul Aziz al-Masri from Syria and Abdul Nasser Sanjar from Lebanon.[42] Al-Dousari’s group may have been ambushed by the Syrian military, with one member killed and the others reportedly arrested.[43]

Another significant escape from Roumieh by Fatah al-Islam members occurred in September-October 2012. The Lebanese press reported that Omar Othman from Syria, Faisal Aqla from Algeria, and Mahmoud Fallah from Palestine managed to escape from the prison and join their comrades in Syria.[44] A couple of months later, Roumieh’s administration reported that prison guards had foiled another major group escape attempt by more than 20 Fatah al-Islam detainees.[45]

In addition to those who have escaped, some of the Islamist detainees in Roumieh who were eventually freed have also opted to commit violent acts against the Syrian government in Syria. The case of Khaled Mahmoud, once one of the leaders of Fatah al-Islam, is well known in Lebanese circles.[46] Mahmoud was released in June 2012 despite his militant activities against the Lebanese army in Nahr al-Bared. Six months after his discharge, he appeared in an online video surrounded by militants and declared the establishment of the Syrian version of Jund al-Sham.[47]

Mahmoud is believed to be responsible for dispatching Lebanese youths to Syria for militant aims.[48] According to reports from al-Akhbar, Lebanese security reports indicate that “Yahia J.,” a close associate of Mahmoud, is in charge of recruiting and deploying Salafi-jihadis to Syria, including the group that was reportedly ambushed by the Syrian army in Tel Kalakh in November 2012.[49] Such reports suggest that Yahia, who is based in Tripoli, along with “Nader H.” and “Bashir M.,” are actively involved in recruiting Salafi-jihadi cells.[50] The latter two were previously detained on charges of belonging to Fatah al-Islam and spent one and three years, respectively, in prison.[51]

According to the Lebanese media, Mahmoud, the amir, reportedly entered Syrian territory through the Mashari al-Qaa region of eastern Lebanon.[52] From there, he traveled to Syria where he became the commander of an armed group stationed at a historic crusader castle in the Krak des Chevaliers area.[53] Shortly afterward, more than 20 Lebanese Salafi-jihadis joined Mahmoud there from Tripoli, swearing allegiance to him.[54] According to the Washington Post, Mahmoud is linked to the Lebanese Shaykh Sabbagh, who has been reported by Lebanese media to be recruiting youths in Tripoli to fight in Syria.[55]

The Rapid Rise and Fall of Ahmad al-Assir
The case of Ahmad al-Assir sheds further light on the evolving state of Sunni militancy in Lebanon, and the outcome of the battle he waged against the Lebanese army carries important implications for the growth trajectory of Salafi-jihadism in Lebanon.[56]

The fact that al-Assir’s men lost the battle of Abra in Sidon in June 2013 may suggest that Salafi-jihadism in Lebanon has suffered a major blow.[57] Unfortunately, that is only partially true because al-Assir emerged under crisis conditions that are still very much relevant in today’s domestic and regional environment: a raging civil war in Syria pitting Sunnis against Alawites and spilling over into Lebanon, extremely tense Sunni-Shi`a relations in Lebanon, severe political instability in Beirut, and a leadership void within the Lebanese Sunni community that has allowed radical Sunni elements to assume, by default, more prominent sociopolitical roles at the expense of secular figures. As long as these conditions exist, another al-Assir could arise.

Three important observations on the outcome of the battle of Abra, however, support the argument that Salafi-jihadism, despite all the external factors enabling its growth and expansion, still faces major challenges in finding a solid popular base and a permanent home in Lebanon.

First, despite two public calls by al-Assir during the battle for Sunnis to join him in the fight and for Sunni soldiers to defect from the Lebanese army, the Salafist shaykh’s requests fell on deaf ears.[58] This same scenario happened in the battle in Nahr al-Bared in 2007 when Fatah al-Islam was forced to fight the Lebanese army alone. Militants from Ain al-Hilwah were supposed to lend their full support to Fatah al-Islam in the past and al-Assir at present, but militants in the camp remained relatively calm, distancing themselves from the fighting, despite a few minor attacks against the Lebanese army in the Ta’amir area by elements of Jund al-Sham and remnants of Fatah al-Islam led by Bilal bin Badr.[59] Less radical Islamist actors who are in disagreement with Fatah al-Islam and Jund al-Sham—including the influential Asbat al-Ansar, Hamas, and al-Jihad al-Islami—assisted the Lebanese army and worked toward preserving the relative peace in Ain al-Hilwah.[60] These actors, along with the secular Fatah, played the same role in 2007 as a rational attempt to protect their own interests.

Second, the battle of Abra would have been the perfect opportunity for the so-called Lebanese branch of Jabhat al-Nusra to be established. Such a development, however, did not occur, and the reasons are unclear. Perhaps the project was not ready for implementation, or it was too ambitious. Regardless, it raises questions about the prospects, or even existence, of this potentially new Salafi-jihadi enterprise in Lebanon.

Third, despite their anger at Hizb Allah over its military involvement in Syria, major secular political figures in the Lebanese Sunni community—including Saad Hariri and Fouad Siniora—condemned the attack in Abra and sided with the Lebanese army and state institutions.[61] Equally important, the most influential Salafist leader in Lebanon, Shaykh Da’i al-Islam al-Shahal (son of Salem al-Shahal, the founder of the Salafist movement in Lebanon), remained silent and did not lend his full support (at least publicly) to al-Assir, making it clear that the Salafist community in Lebanon is not united in its stance against the Lebanese army. Indeed, neither Beirut’s nor the north’s Salafists erupted during or after the fighting, and al-Assir’s supporters in Tripoli refrained from starting a diversionary battle and opening another front against the Lebanese army to potentially come to the rescue of their “champion.”

From Arsal to Wadi Khaled, from Tripoli to Akkar, and from Sidon to the heart of Beirut, black Salafi-jihadi flags and banners have been spotted in increasing numbers, a picture unseen before in Lebanon’s history.[62] The Lebanese people used to take lightly the tirades of al-Assir against Hizb Allah and the Shi`a. This is no longer true, given the Salafist shaykh’s growing but still relatively small support base. There is a sense of anxiety in Lebanon about the increased potential for Sunni-Shi`a conflict. Hizb Allah is on edge and high alert, and despite its strategic interest in avoiding civil unrest in Lebanon, the organization, if it feels threatened, could lash out against fellow Lebanese, as it did in May 2008.[63]

This tense and sectarian environment in Lebanon, should it explode, is a development that the Lebanese army, due to its modest resources and a divided political leadership in Beirut, is likely incapable of pacifying.

Bilal Y. Saab is Executive Director and Head of Research of the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA) North America. He is also a nonresident scholar at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies.

[1] Regional demographics have worked against Hizb Allah and the Shi`a. Therefore, even the staunchest Lebanese Shi`a supporters of Hizb Allah would prefer to be at peace with Sunni Lebanese and their broader environment, which is predominantly Sunni.

[2] These actions include removing the Lebanese Sunni community’s leader, Saad Hariri, from power in a so-called coup in 2011, and allegedly participating in a spate of assassinations of its most influential figures including former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri (the father of Saad) in February 2005 and Brigadier General Wissam al-Hassan, chief of the Intelligence Bureau of the Lebanese Internal Security Forces, in October 2012. See “Hariri Supporters Accuse Hezbollah of Lebanon Coup,” Reuters, January 24, 2011; “Hezbollah Suspects to be Tried Over Rafik Hariri,” BBC, August 17, 2011; “Hezbollah-led Govt Blamed for Murder of Top Lebanese Security Official,” al-Arabiya, October 20, 2012.

[3] All officially recognized sects that compose Lebanese society are considered minorities. Indeed, there is no religious or communal majority in Lebanon. It is difficult to determine more precise numbers on sectarian representation in Lebanon because the last time the country had an official census was in 1932 due to political sensitivities.

[4]  Bilal Y. Saab, “Lebanon at Risk from Salafi-Jihadi Terrorist Cells,” CTC Sentinel 3:2 (2010); Bilal Y. Saab, “The Failure of Salafi-Jihadi Insurgent Movements in the Levant,” CTC Sentinel 2:9 (2009).

[5] Saab, “Lebanon at Risk from Salafi-Jihadi Terrorist Cells”; Thanassis Cambanis, “Desolation Awaits Returning Palestinian Refugees,” New York Times, October 11, 2007.

[6] Mohammed Zaatari and Antoine Amrieh, “Sidon Leaders Demand Post-Abra Probe,” Daily Star [Beirut], June 29, 2013.

[7] Ibid.; Anne Barnard, “Calm Returns to Lebanese City, but Tensions Remain,” New York Times, June 25, 2013.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Jabhat al-Nusra is a Salafi-jihadi insurgent group operating in Syria that has established ties to al-Qa`ida and has been designated a “terrorist” group by the U.S. State Department. The U.S. government views Jabhat al-Nusra as a “front group” for al-Qa`ida in Iraq.

[10] “Hezbollah Prepares for Attacks by Jabhat al-Nusra in Lebanon,” al-Monitor, April 26, 2013.

[11] “Six Men Charged for Plotting Terror Acts in Lebanon,” Daily Star, July 19, 2013. For other evidence of possible Jabhat al-Nusra activity in Lebanon, see Jean Aziz, “Jabhat al-Nusra Reportedly in Lebanon,” al-Monitor, December 24, 2012; Mitchell Prothero, “Al Qaida-linked Nusra Front Rebels Blamed for Bloody Fight Against Lebanese Army in Sidon,” McClatchy Newspapers, June 26, 2013.

[12] Nasser Sharara, “Jabhat al-Nusra From Northern Syria to Southern Lebanon,” al-Akhbar, February 25, 2013; Nasser Charara, “Coming Soon: Al-Nusra Front in Lebanon,” al-Akhbar, February 25, 2013; Kassem Kassem and Amal Khalil, “Ein el Helweh fi Intithar wiladat fir’ li ‘Jabhat al Nusra,’” al-Akhbar, February 4, 2013; Ja`far al-Attar, “Al Assir…Al Nusra wal Qa’ida,” as-Safir, June 24, 2013.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Fatah al-Islam is a militant Sunni Islamist group that is inspired by al-Qa`ida’s ideology. Its members are mostly Arabs from various Middle Eastern countries. It emerged in the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon in November 2006. Its goals are unclear but include the establishment of an Islamic state in northern Lebanon.

[16] Sharara, “Jabhat al-Nusra From Northern Syria to Southern Lebanon.” Jund al-Sham is a title claimed by several Sunni Islamic extremist entities, all or none of which may be connected. These entities mostly operate in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, and their goals include the establishment of an Islamic caliphate throughout the Levant.

[17] Sharara, “Jabhat al-Nusra From Northern Syria to Southern Lebanon”; Bill Roggio, “Abdullah Azzam Brigades Names Leader, Advises Against Attacks in Syria’s Cities,” The Long War Journal, June 27, 2012.

[18] Roggio.

[19] Sharara, “Jabhat al-Nusra From Northern Syria to Southern Lebanon.”

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] These two battalions do not exist in name. The author contends that if a Lebanese branch of Jabhat al-Nusra—or some other coordinated, jihadist entity—were to be formed in Lebanon, then its fighters would likely coalesce into two separate factions/battalions.

[23] The “Platoons of Ziad al-Jarrah” is often referred to as a brigade that operates under the command of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades. See, for example, “Who Are The Abdullah Azzam Brigades?” Reuters, August 4, 2010.

[24] Asbat al-Ansar is a Palestinian Salafi-jihadi group that was involved in a number of terrorist operations against Lebanese official targets in the past, including the killings of four judges in a courtroom in Sidon in June 1999. Recently, it reached a permanent truce with the Lebanese authorities in return for its intelligence cooperation on al-Qa`ida elements in the Ain al-Hilwah camp. For details of the incident in 1999, see Audrey Kurth Cronin et al., “Foreign Terrorist Organizations,” CRS Report for Congress, February 6, 2004.

[25] Ansar Allah was founded in southern Gaza in November 2008 as an armed Sunni Islamist group with strong Salafi-jihadi credentials. Its goals include the establishment of an Islamic state in Gaza.

[26] Al-Haraka al-Islamiyya al-Mujahida is a Salafi-jihadi group that was founded in 1984 by Jamal Khattab and Abdallah Hallaq, allegedly with the help of Iran. Its base is the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain al-Hilwah. Khattab has good relations with Hizb Allah and Hamas.

[27]  Kassem and Khalil.

[28] Sharara, “Jabhat al-Nusra From Northern Syria to Southern Lebanon”; Misbah al-Ali, “Who is Sabbagh? A Look into the Life of the Sheikh and Fighter,” Daily Star, January 15, 2013. Sabbagh has called for an Islamic emirate that unites all Salafi-jihadi entities operating in Lebanon and Syria under one umbrella and covers geographical areas from northern Lebanon and the outskirts of the Syrian city of Homs.

[29] Al-Ali.

[30] Ibid.; Sharara, “Jabhat al-Nusra From Northern Syria to Southern Lebanon.”

[31] Ibid.

[32]  Roger Hardy, “Profile: Jund al-Sham,” BBC, June 4, 2007. For more on Jund al-Sham, see Bilal Y. Saab and Magnus Ranstorp, “Securing Lebanon from the Threat of Salafist Jihadism,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 30:10 (2007).

[33] Personal interview, Lebanese internal security officer, May 2013.

[34] Saab, “Lebanon at Risk from Salafi-Jihadi Terrorist Cells.”

[35] Ibid.; Ja`far al-Attar, “Lebanon Prison ‘Controlled by Islamists,’” as-Safir, January 30, 2013.

[36] Kassem Kassem, “Ein el Helweh: Al Lino ya’oud li sahk al Nusra,” al-Akhbar, February 20, 2013.

[37] Kassem and Khalil.

[38] Ibid.; Al-Attar, “Lebanon Prison ‘Controlled by Islamists.’”

[39] Ibid.

[40] One notable example of communication and coordination between imprisoned Fatah al-Islam members and like-minded extremists from the outside is the case of Walid al-Bustani. Al-Bustani, a Salafi-jihadi who fought in the Nahr al-Bared battle, escaped from Roumieh in mid-2012, but was later executed by Syrian rebels in the town of Tel Kalakh. For details, see “Fatah al-Islam Militants Killed in Syria,” Daily Star, April 24, 2012; Al-Attar, “Lebanon Prison ‘Controlled by Islamists’”; Radwan Mortada, “Roumieh Prison: Rule by the Sword,” al-Akhbar, October 14, 2012.

[41] “Kuwaiti Tried to Set Up Al-Qaeda camp – Report,” Daily Star, May 27, 2009.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Doha Shams, “Abu Talha wal mashrou` al Qa’idi fi Lubnan,” al-Akhbar, December 27, 2012.

[44] “Judge Orders Roumieh Warden Detained,” Daily Star, October 15, 2012.

[45] “Police Thwart Roumieh Escape Attempt by Suspected Islamists,” Daily Star, December 13, 2012.

[46] Babak Dehghanpisheh and Suzan Haidamous, “More Lebanese Sunnis are Crossing into Syria to Aid Rebellion, Officials Say,” Washington Post, January 26, 2013.

[47] Kassem; Radwan Mortada, “Khaled Mahmoud: A Prisoner in Lebanon Turns Emir in Syria,” al-Akhbar, January 4, 2013; Dehghanpisheh and Haidamous.

[48] Ibid.

[49]  Ibid.

[50]  Mortada, “Khaled Mahmoud: A Prisoner in Lebanon Turns Emir in Syria.”

[51] Ibid.

[52] Doha Shams, “Layali al Shamal al Hazina Tatarakkab al-`Arka al Kabira,” al-Akhbar, February 25, 2013; Dehghanpisheh and Haidamous.

[53] Shams, “Layali al Shamal al Hazina Tatarakkab al-`Arka al Kabira.”

[54] Ibid.

[55] Ibid.; Dehghanpisheh and Haidamous.

[56] Ahmad al-Assir rose to prominence a year ago when he and his followers blocked a main road leading to southern Lebanon for a month and a half, a move that allegedly was part of a broader strategy for creating a Sunni militia that would ultimately face Hizb Allah. The Salafist shaykh began his mobilization campaign by recruiting young Lebanese using a highly sectarian and anti-Hizb Allah speech. He attracted Lebanese nationals, Palestinian refugees, Syrians, and other Arabs to his anti-Shi`a cause. Once established in Sidon, he visited other areas including Arsal and Tripoli, hoping to expand his movement and reach the northern Sunni part of the country. From June 2012 to June 2013, he reportedly benefited from funding provided by Gulf and local, unknown sources. He allegedly used the money to buy weapons from Ain al-Hilwah. For details, see Amal Khalil, “Al Sheikh Assir Wal Thalath Sa’at Al ‘Ro’b Fi Janoub Loubnan,” al-Akhbar, June 20, 2013; Dana Moukhallati, “Breaking Down Ahmad al-Assir: The Man Behind the Beard,” al-Arabiya, June 25, 2013; “What Happened to Fadel Shaker?” al-Monitor, July 4, 2013.

[57] Ibid.

[58] Mohammad Saleh, “Al Assir You’lin ‘Harbahou’ ‘ala al Jaysh,” as-Safir, June 24, 2013.

[59] Ibid.

[60] Ibid.

[61] Ibid.

[62] During the past year, Lebanese news agencies including al-Jadeed, MTV, and LBC have reported in their evening news on the Sunni Islamist and Salafist demonstrations and rallies in Lebanon’s northern region and Beirut, showing footage of bearded men waving black flags of al-Qa`ida. Also see Dehghanpisheh and Haidamous.

[63] In response to the Lebanese government’s decision to shut down Hizb Allah’s telecommunications network and sack airport security chief Wafic Choucair (a man close to Hizb Allah), the Shi`a group took over parts of West Beirut, a move described by its rivals in the pro-Western March 14 coalition as an “armed coup.” See Robert F. Worth and Nada Bakri, “Hezbollah Seizes Swath of Beirut From U.S.-Backed Lebanon Government,” New York Times, May 10, 2008.

Stay Informed

Sign up to receive updates from CTC.

Sign up