The Connection Between Hariri’s Murder and Al-Qaeda In Iraq Network

Confessed Killer of Rafik Hariri Released From Prison

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Both men have benefited from a recent decision to shorten the prison year in Lebanon from 12 to 9 months. (Photo: Marwan Tahtah)

By: Radwan Mortada

Published Thursday, July 4, 2013

On Wednesday, July 3, Hassan Nabaa, the leader of the so-called “Cell of 13” – members of which confessed to the assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri – was released upon completion of his seven-year sentence. Nabaa, who fought against US troops occupying Iraq, left Roumieh prison amid chants of “God is great.”

Years after Nabaa’s sentencing, the mystery shrouding his case remains. Is he really one of Hariri’s assassins? Or is he just another Salafi jihadi?

In 2006, Faisal Akbar, a Saudi national and member of the cell, had confessed to taking part in the assassination, but subsequently retracted his confession for unknown reasons. During questioning, Akbar disclosed detailed information that the international commission of inquiry would verify months later.

As soon as word of Nabaa’s release got out, Salafis throughout Lebanon exchanged messages on mobile phones, congratulating one another for the “liberation of the mujahid cleric.”

Akbar will be deported to Saudi Arabia once he pays a fine that was part of his sentence. Both men have benefited from a recent decision to shorten the prison year in Lebanon from 12 to 9 months. They were initially sentenced to 10 years.

Nabaa, born in 1974, is different from other members of his cell, and is known for being taciturn and shrewd. Security officials suspect he may have once been the commander of al-Qaeda in the Levant, while close associates of his have claimed that he was only in charge of providing logistical support for jihadis fighting in Iraq.

Yet his associates state that Nabaa had very close ties with the late Abu Musab Zarqawi, one of the most senior al-Qaeda leaders in Iraq. Nabaa also previously fought in Afghanistan.

Nabaa became known in 2000 when the security services sought him in connection with the clashes that erupted in North Lebanon’s Dinniyeh between radical Islamists and the Lebanese army. Nabaa fled to Syria where he continued his religious studies, until he joined an al-Qaeda-affiliated group, led by a man known only as Jamil al-Souri.

In January 2006, Nabaa was taken in by pure chance. Investigators from the Information Branch of the Lebanese Internal Security Forces had been in pursuit of Tareq al-Nasser, another member of his group, and got to him while he was making a call from a public phone in the Beirut district of Corniche al-Mazraa. While watching Nasser, the investigators noticed someone standing watch. When the patrol proceeded to apprehend Nasser, an officer decided to arrest the other man before his superiors came to interrogate him.

Nabaa told the officers he was on his way home, and introduced himself using the name of a Lebanese engineer from the Kanafani family, who later turned out to have had been killed in Iraq.

Nabaa was subsequently booked and taken to the Information Branch headquarters. There, he was placed in a holding cell, while a picture of him was placed on the wall for other detainees to see during interrogation. Akbar was once such detainee. When he saw Nabaa’s picture, he was astonished and asked, “Is the emir here?”

This is how investigators came to realize – by accident – that the man was none other than the leader of this cell, which had been uncovered during the inquiry into Hariri’s assassination on account of its members’ ties to Ahmad Abu Adas. Recall that Abu Adas was the man who claimed responsibility for Hariri’s assassination in a video tape leaked to television networks a few hours after the explosion that rocked Beirut in 2005.

Akbar confessed his involvement in the assassination of Hariri to investigators, disclosing information that would later turn out to be accurate. However, on the next day, Akbar retracted his statement, after a six-hour meeting with Samir Shehadeh and Wissam al-Hassan.

When the rest of the cell appeared before the head of the military tribunal, Nizar Khalil, they all retracted their previous statements, which they claimed had been extracted under torture. The suspects accused the Information Branch of fabricating their statements, while Akbar denied any involvement in Hariri’s assassination.

The issue of whether Nabaa and Akbar had anything to do with Hariri’s murder became the focus of much controversy. What is certain is that the cell actively supported fighters in Iraq.

Akbar told investigators that he had entered Lebanon illegally through the Masnaa border crossing along with Nabaa. Once inside the country, he took up residence in flats in al-Basta and Ramleh al-Baida neighborhoods of Beirut.

Akbar had met Nabaa in Saudi Arabia before they joined forces in providing logistical support for the resistance against the occupation in Iraq. Akbar also said that he was injured while attempting to slip into Iraq via Syria.

Nabaa confirmed that he had returned to Lebanon secretly after fleeing Syria, but denied taking part in the Dinniyeh clashes, or undertaking any combat or intelligence training, often stressing that his cell’s work was strictly limited to providing logistical support for the resistance in Iraq.

Nabaa also denied being acquainted with Ahmad Abu Adas. Regarding the weapons seized from him, he claimed during questioning that they were intended for Iraq.

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Atrash Investigation–Two Saudi Suicide Bombers on the Loose

Atrash Investigation: Two Saudi Suicide Bombers on the Loose

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People gather at the scene of a car bomb explosion which went off in front of the main government administration building in Hermel, a stronghold of Lebanon’s Hezbollah near the border with Syria, on January 16, 2014. (Photo: AFP – STR).

Published Friday, January 31, 2014

A primary round of investigations into Omar al-Atrash established him as a suspect in a string of suicide bombings and attacks in Lebanon’s Bekaa, Dahiyeh, and Saida. Atrash’s statements provided invaluable information, as the detained cleric allegedly confessed to transporting two Saudi suicide bombers, who are still at large, to Beirut. Atrash has now been officially charged, paving the way for further questioning.

On January 30, an official statement by Lebanon’s army command confirmed previous press reports regarding Atrash’s confessions to his role in the recent wave of deadly bombings in Lebanon. Atrash has been referred to a military court, which charged him over his alleged role in the attacks.

Al-Akhbar learned that the military court intends to request the intelligence directorate to expand the scope of the investigations into Atrash. According to informed sources, the information the suspect may be in possession of cannot be extracted from him in just a few days of investigations.

Atrash reportedly spoke at length during his interrogation about his role in the terrorist bombings in Lebanon. The cleric also revealed some secrets about the work of jihadi organizations, but many details need to be followed up and verified. It is understood that there have been talks with the Ministry of Justice and the military court to get their consent to keeping Atrash in the custody of army intelligence for a longer period of time.

According to the same sources, Atrash was apprehended while army intelligence was in pursuit of a Saudi national, who, according to US intelligence tips, had entered Lebanon to carry out a major terrorist attack. During the search for the Saudi, information surfaced that made Atrash a suspect.

Atrash was subsequently arrested. Shortly after, he admitted his intent to move the Saudi national, who remains at large, to the capital. Atrash also confessed that he had previously brought another Saudi to Beirut, revealing that both of the Saudis were commissioned in Syria to carry out two suicide attacks in areas with sizeable Hezbollah influence.

Atrash also confessed that the registration papers found in his possession belonged to cars in the process of being moved to Beirut, to be handed over to suicide bombers for detonation in Dahiyeh or other areas. The suspect also said he was helping with logistics, including transferring funds.

The sources said Atrash disclosed information about certain events, details of which had been hitherto secret, including facts like:

– Atrash transported to Beirut the two suicide bombers who attacked the Iranian embassy, handing them over to the Palestinian fugitive Naim Abbas. Abbas operates from Palestinian refugee camps, including Ain al-Hilweh in South Lebanon.

– Atrash transported one of the suicide bombers involved in the Haret Hreik bombings to Khaldeh, also handing him over to Abbas.

– Atrash sent one of the suicide bombers using a microbus from Bekaa to Beirut, where Abbas was waiting for him. Abbas then moved the bomber to another location, where he gave him the explosive-rigged vehicle and an explosive belt.

– He transferred funds to Abbas, which he obtained from inside Syria.

– The two suicide bombers who blew themselves up at Lebanese army checkpoints in Awwali and Saida, and who until now had not been identified, were Qatari nationals, whom Atrash helped move from Bekaa to Beirut.

– The suicide bomber in the recent attack in Hermel was probably the brother of a Lebanese national who blew himself up in Syria a while ago.

Naim Abbas: The Mastermind

Investigations into Atrash revealed Abbas, born in 1970, as a prominent al-Qaeda figure in Lebanon and the mastermind of a number of suicide attacks that targeted the southern suburbs of Beirut. In statements given by Islamist prisoners in Lebanon years ago, Abbas was named as the perpetrator of the assassinations of Army Major General Francois al-Hajj and MP Walid Eido. The prisoners cited leaders of Fatah al-Islam as the source of this information, but security services were not able to verify its accuracy.

According to reports, Abbas resides in South Lebanon’s Ain al-Hilweh camp, bearing in mind that security reports indicate Abbas often vanishes from the camp before reappearing with his beard shaven.

Atrash’s confessions have revealed that Abbas, who is a former member of the Islamic Jihad, is the same person known as Abu Suleiman. The latter was previously identified by the army as the owner of a warehouse in an area near Dahiyeh. Abbas, according to the same reports, gave a bomb-rigged car to Qutaiba al-Satem, the perpetrator of the first suicide bombing in Haret Hreik, after receiving it from Atrash.

The sources pointed out that Atrash confessed when he was confronted with damning evidence, including recordings of phone conversations proving his involvement, in addition to images sent by phone of the rigged cars and the perpetrator of one of the suicide attacks in Dahiyeh.

According to the sources, the army tasked a doctor to examine Atrash before handing him over to the military judiciary, to prove that he was not beaten in custody. Both the forensic doctor and Atrash have signed a report to this effect, the sources added.

Government commissioner to the military court, Judge Saq Saqr, charged Atrash and 12 others, including Lebanese, Syrian, and Palestinian nationals and other unidentified suspects, with joining an armed terrorist group with the goal of carrying out terrorist attacks, recruiting people for terrorist acts, and involvement in the bombings in Haret Hreik. Judge Saqr referred the case to the military investigative judge.

In the meantime, the army’s crackdown on terrorism continues. According to reports, more than 20 suspects have been arrested over the past two months, including Danish, Belgian, and German nationals suspected of being members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), al-Nusra Front, and the Abdullah Azzam Brigades.

In the same vein, investigations with detainee Jamal Daftardar, who was arrested by the intelligence directorate in Kamed al-Loz, continue. Daftardar had been under close surveillance after Lebanon received US tips regarding the movements of the now-deceased leader of Abdullah Azzam Brigades Majed al-Majed, as Daftardar was in charge of medical care for the latter in Lebanon.

According to reports, Daftardar is from the second generation of al-Qaeda operatives. His role focused on explosives and combat training. Al-Akhbar learned that his 16-year-old wife has since been released by the authorities, but was referred to General Security for processing, as she is a Syrian national. It appears that Daftardar knew the real identity of Majed, unlike others who were taking the Saudi terror leader to hospital or paying his medical bills.

(Al-Akhbar)

Saudi Jihadis–The Source of Lebanon’s Troubles

Lebanon’s Saudi Jihadis in a League of Their Own

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Nevertheless, not all jihadis are created equal. Indeed, Saudis are seen to enjoy a position of seniority among jihadi groups due to two factors: their wealth and the status of Saudi Arabia as a bastion of Salafi-jihadism – the ideological wellspring of al-Qaeda and its ilk. (Photo: Haytham El-Mousawe).

By: Radwan Mortada

Published Thursday, January 9, 2014

Dozens of Saudi members of al-Qaeda are incarcerated in Lebanon, while dozens of others who came to Lebanon to “liberate it from its infidel regime” and establish an Islamic state, have been killed in the country. Saudi jihadis in Lebanon have been accused of involvement in many incidents, from the assassination of Rafik Hariri to fighting in the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp.

Jihadis do not recognize political borders between countries because they believe all the world is “God’s land,” and the land of Islam and Muslims is one. For this reason, one may encounter jihadis of all nationalities, brought together by a fundamentalist brand of Islam, crossing borders to fight until victory, or more often, death.

Nevertheless, not all jihadis are created equal. Indeed, Saudis are seen to enjoy a position of seniority among jihadi groups due to two factors: their wealth and the status of Saudi Arabia as a bastion of Salafi-jihadism – the ideological wellspring of al-Qaeda and its ilk.

Below are snippets from the history of Saudi jihadis in Lebanon, where Saudis have been sentenced to prison for forming extremist cells, carrying out terrorist acts, and involvement in criminal activities related to car theft, drug dealing, and fraud.

Faisal Akbar, 35, is considered the longest-serving Saudi prisoner in Lebanon. Akbar was arrested more than seven years ago and sentenced to 10 years in prison. He was released months ago after the prison year in Lebanon was reduced to nine months. Akbar was one of the most prominent detainees in the “Group of 13,” which confessed to assassinating former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri before retracting its statements.Fahd al-Moghames, born 1979, is another prominent Saudi jihadi caught in Lebanon. He was arrested in June 2007 and was also sentenced to 10 years in prison. A Lebanese military tribunal recommended the death sentence for Moghames, who led an al-Qaeda-affiliated group of Lebanese, Syrian, and Palestinian nationals in the Bekaa Valley.

According to the text of the indictment issued by Judge Rashid Mezher, Moghames left Saudi in late 2003 to fight US troops in Iraq. Moghames carried a false passport bearing the name of Ahmad Tuwaijri. Mezher noted Moghames’s movements between the Ain al-Helweh refugee camp and the Bekaa, and his efforts to create armed terror cells to instigate Sunni-Shia strife in Lebanon.

Next is Abdullah al-Bishi, born 1976, who is known by other names, including Abu Abdul-Malek. He was arrested in February 2007. So far, he has served five years and five months in prison, but he remains on trial in terrorism-related cases.

Bishi was one of the individuals arrested for their activities in the terrorist group known as Fatah al-Islam during the incidents of Nahr al-Bared. It was soon revealed that Bishi had been dispatched by al-Qaeda to offer guidance to the jihadis during their battles against the Lebanese army at the Palestinian refugee camp.

According to the text of the indictment issued by Judge Ghassan Owaidat, Bishi acted as “a religious guide for Fatah al-Islam and al-Qaeda.” Interestingly, however, Bishi said during his detention that most Saudis who joined Fatah al-Islam (62 people) had fallen prey to Shaker al-Absi, leader of Fatah al-Islam, who Bishi said had taken advantage of the Saudis to seize money from them.

The fourth most prominent Saudi prisoner in Lebanon is Mohammed Saleh al-Souweyed, who is believed to be one of the most important “men of al-Qaeda” to ever enter to Lebanon. All four Saudis were arrested on terrorism charges and for involvement in terrorist operations, according to investigations carried out by the Information Branch of the Lebanese Internal Security Forces.

In addition to those, there are eight Saudi prisoners in Lebanon, including some detained in terror cases and others in criminal cases. In the former category, the cases include the assassination of Hariri, Fatah al-Islam’s activities, and a series of bombings targeting the Lebanese army and UNIFIL.

One of the Saudi prisoners held for his alleged role in these cases is Talal al-Saeiri, born 1984, who was arrested in September 2007 and has yet to be sentenced by the military tribunal. Other Saudi prisoners include the following individuals, all of whom remain on trial: Mohammed al-Mutairi, born 1982, arrested in September 2007; Ayed al-Qahtani, born 1958, arrested in June 2007; and Mubarak al-Karbi, born 1978, arrested in September 2007.

While these individuals were arrested after the defeat inflicted on Fatah al-Islam, dozens were killed in action and buried in Tripoli’s Ghurabaa cemetery.

Fatah al-Islam’s project for an Islamic emirate in Lebanon was not the first one to involve Saudis, nor was it the last. To be sure, after a lull that lasted a few years, the Arab Spring has now turned, thanks to Salafi-jihadis, into a “Salafi Spring” across the whole Arab world.

Follow Radwan Mortada on Twitter.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Searching for Al-Qaeda in Lebanon, Part 2 –An Emir for Greater Syria

Searching for Al-Qaeda in Lebanon (II): An Emir for Greater Syria

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A member from a Militant Islamic group stands with a missile-launcher in an undisclosed location in Ain el-Helweh refugee camp, south Lebanon. (Photo: Haytham al-Moussawi)

By: Radwan Mortada

Published Monday, March 5, 2012

In the second part of this exclusive series, Al-Akhbar talks to members of al-Qaeda’s emerging Lebanese branch, Ziad al-Jarrah Battalions, about their take on the “Shia threat”, fighting Israel, organizing their ranks in Greater Syria and tackling the Syrian crisis, as well as reported plans to rename al-Qaeda as the Abdullah Azzam brigades.

Seeking out members of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades in the Ain el-Helweh refugee camp near Sidon in southern Lebanon is tricky business.

They prefer to remain in the shadows. They operate quietly and go out publicly only on carefully chosen occasions. Although several members of the brigades are well-known to the camp’s inhabitants, neither they nor officials of the various Palestinian factions in the camp care to identify them.

Lebanese security sources say the brigades, the de facto Lebanese branch of al-Qaeda, has been highly active in Ain el-Helweh of late, transferring personnel in an out of the camp and purchasing weapons. A large number of outsiders recently moved into the camp, supervised by a Saudi national called Majed al-Majed.

Another visitor who paid a recent visit to the camp is Abd al-Majid Azzam, grandson of Azzam al-Azzam, the group’s namesake and onetime mentor of al-Qaeda’s founders. He carried a forged ID card, in the name of one Saleh Mousa Shabayteh and stayed at the home of Abd al-Ghani Jawhar, also known as Abu-Bakr. Jawhar, a Lebanese national, is suspected of involvement in three bomb attacks in northern Lebanon against two buses and a military position, as well as a bombing in Damascus in the autumn of 2008.

During his stay in Ain el-Helweh, Azzam attended a meeting at which he relayed a message from the al-Qaeda leadership to a former leader of Fatah al-Islam. It requested two things. First, the message requested protection for Jawhar against possible assassination attempts. The message also requested information about the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNFIL), the United Nations peacekeeping force in south Lebanon, and its patterns of deployment.

According to the same sources, three figures known in Islamist circles to be connected to al-Qaeda were present at the meeting: Naim Abbas (Abu-Ismail) and Ziad Abul-Naaj – both Palestinians – and the Lebanese Tawfiq Taha (Abu-Muhammad).

Abbas, 41, is thought to be a key activist in both al-Qaeda and Fatah al-Islam. He is one of the suspects wanted for the assassination in 2007 of former Lebanese army operations chief General Francois al-Hajj. Abbas was arrested in the 1990s in connection with attempts to fire missiles into occupied Palestine. Among those detained with him was Saleh Qibawi (Abu Jaafar al-Maqdisi), who was later killed in Iraq.

Taha is considered by Lebanese security to be al-Qaeda’s top representative in Ain el-Helweh. A total of 25 warrants have been issued for his arrest by Lebanese judicial, police, and security authorities. He is thought to have updated his modus operandi of late, organizing followers within the camp into separate cells and using more secure methods (Internet-based rather than cellphones) to communicate with those outside.

Despite rumors that Taha has left Ain el-Helweh, leaders of Palestinian factions in the camp say he is still seen there regularly, moving about without any apparent security precautions.

Hezbollah as enemy

At an undisclosed location in Ain el-Helweh, Al-Akhbar met with one of the brigades’ leaders, who formerly belonged to Usbat al-Ansar. He said the group’s members consisted of people who had broken away from various Palestinian factions, mainly Usbat al-Ansar, but others too. Some had been volunteers in Iraq, or had joined individually – “because they share the same attitude to the Lebanese political situation, and the same belief in the jihadi objective of establishing the State of Islam.”

The brigades view Usbat al-Ansar and other groups such as the Islamic Mujahed Movement as “lapsed Muslims” and demand that they “sever their relations with the Shia and with Lebanese state intelligence agencies.”

Our conversation turned to the situation in the region, including the situation in Syria.

This prompted our interlocutor to say that he had information that Lebanese military intelligence was planning to target his group “under pressure from Hezbollah.” If that were to happen, he warned, “we will strike deep inside the Dahiyeh” – the southern suburbs of Beirut. He also said that “twenty martyrdom-seekers are awaiting the signal to proceed.”

He also spoke of the brigades’ plans to take up the struggle against the Israeli enemy. He denounced Hezbollah for “preventing Sunni Muslims from fighting against Israel” and thereby “protecting the borders” on its behalf. “We will fight both enemies: Israel, and the Shia Hezbollah which protects its borders,” he declared.

We asked for a meeting with Tawfiq Taha, and were promised that the request would be passed on. A few days later, our interlocutor called to say that this would not be possible for the time being, for security reasons – given the sensitivity of conditions in the region.

We had a second meeting with the same brigades leader later on, in the same place but with others also present. He reproached us for Al-Akhbar’s coverage of missile launches against Israel in late November last year. When we pointed out that a statement in the name of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades had claimed responsibility, he said it had been a fabrication.

“Any Muslim would take pride in targeting Israel. If we had done so, we would have declared it,” he said. He noted that the Abdullah Azzam Brigades has only ever issued six public statements. These included their August 2009 declaration attacking UNIFIL, Lebanese military intelligence, and Hezbollah.

He was convinced he said that the missiles were fired by allies of the Syrian regime in order to create confusion, and to signal to Israel that its own security was dependent on Syria’s.

New strategy

On a third visit to Ain el-Helweh, Al-Akhbar was able to interview a more senior leader of the Abdallah Azzan Brigades. A contact based in the Bekaa who is well-connected to “mujahideen brothers” in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq arranged the meeting. It was all done over the Internet, which is considered a safe means of communication these days. The security forces recently managed to penetrate the group’s communications network, thereby reaching some of the mujahideen’s second-ranking leaders. They nearly got to the top tier. Since then, the use of cellphones and landlines has been kept to a minimum.

This leader said the brigades were in the process of reorganizing in order to join the “global jihadi enterprise,” which he stressed was not confined to any specific region.

“Our most important objective is to support the Sunni community, which is being oppressed by the Shia onslaught,” he said. He maintained that there was a principle in Islamic jurisprudence which holds that “fighting the nearby apostate takes priority over fighting the distant heretic.”

He disavowed links to any Arab state, remarking “that any connection to any state amounts to be political collaboration.”

He said Lebanese security agencies recently arrested four associates who came to Ain el-Helweh from Jordan, as well as a Palestinian referred to as Bilal who used to liaise between different groups.

AL-Qaeda’s Lebanese branch is thought to have been established in 2004. Its analysts and security personnel says its members include Palestinians and Saudis as well as Lebanese, and that it appears to have been expanding of late.

This appears to be linked to a new strategy that the central al-Qaeda leadership is in the process of developing.

According to Salafi sources, al-Qaeda has been undergoing a rethink since the assassination of Osama bin-Laden by US forces in Pakistan last May. Among other things, some donors from the Gulf ceased providing al-Qaeda with funds after bin-Laden’s death.

Al-Qaeda’s new leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, also believed a change of strategy was needed because al-Qaeda’s name had been “tarnished” by association with bloody killings and indiscriminate bombings, undermining its ability to attract supporters.

According to these sources, Bin-Laden himself had considered changing al-Qaeda’s name, having become convinced that it was a liability and widely reviled. Zawahiri put the suggestion to al-Qaeda’s Majlis al-Shoura, an advisory council, and it was agreed that the new name Adallah Azzam Brigades would be adopted. Azzam was a leading figure of the Arab mujahideen who flocked to Afghanistan in the 1980s to fight against the Soviet Union, and was both Bin-Laden and Zawahiri’s intellectual mentor. He was killed in Pakistan in 1989.

It was also agreed that the country or regional branches of the organization would be designated as “batallions,” each named after a prominent local mujahed. Thus the Jordanian branch would become the Abu-Misab al-Zarqawi Battalions, the Egyptian one would be called the Yousef al-Ayeyri Battalions, and Syria would have the Abu-Hassan al-Mihdar Battalions. The Lebanese branch would be named after Ziad al-Jarrah, the Lebanese 9/11 hijacker.

Although statements by the Abdullah Azzam Brigades have been published on al-Qaeda’s al-Fajr webste, many jihadis confirm that it has not yet been officially inaugurated.

Insiders say it is expected to but has yet to designate an “emir” or commander for the Greater Syria region from either the Lebanese or Syrian branches, most likely the head of the latter, who is known as Abu-Anas al-Homsi.

One feature of al-Qaeda’s new strategy for gaining support and credibility is to begin mounting operations against Israel, according to jihadi sources. This is seen as key to attracting a bigger following, given the strength of public support for the Palestinian cause in the Muslim world. This means that the Lebanese and Syrian branches take on added importance – and that the mujahideen may soon turn their attention to the south Lebanon and Golan Heights fronts.

Fatah al-Islam attempted to develop a Greater Syrian al-Qaeda, but its leaders were all killed before they could win the endorsement of the parent organization. The endeavor continues, and the objective remains, especially after the outbreak of the revolt in Syria. The mujaihdeen are making preparations, though the name has changed.

There is a difference in priorities between the two groups, concurred a former fighter who took part in the battles with the Lebanese army at the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp in 2008. Fatah al-Islam sees it main enemies as America and Israel, said – adding that it was planning to mount a “quality operation” against Israel, either from within Israel or from Lebanon, which would not consist of “merely firing missiles.” The Abdullah Azzam Brigades’ priorities, on the other hand, include fighting Hezbollah as well as Israel.

But insiders affirm that the difference will be overcome once the al-Qaeda leadership has its final say, and its emir in Greater Syria surfaces.

Searching for Al-Qaeda in Lebanon, Part I — Coming of Age

Searching for Al-Qaeda in Lebanon (I): Coming of Age

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Armed militants of the Islamist group Fatah al-Islam secure a position in the refugee camp of Nahr el-Bared in north Lebanon, 21 March 2007. Fatah al-Islam was linked heavily with al-Qaeda. (Photo: AFP – Ramzi Haidar)

By: Radwan Mortada

Published Saturday, March 3, 2012

In this exclusive two-part series, Al-Akhbar meets with Al-Qaeda groupings in Lebanon and explores their latest ideological arguments and evolving mission .

Part (I): Lebanon as Land of Active Rather than Passive Jihad

The morning fog has not yet lifted and the clouds above herald another storm as our car swerves through the villages of the northern Bekaa. The speed suggests our driver knows the road by heart.

There is nothing in his appearance, nor that of our other companions, to indicate that they are Salafis. There are no bushy beards, cropped moustaches, Afghan clothing, nor any of the other stereotypical Salafi trademarks.

The vehicle reaches an Internal Security Forces checkpoint. The driver nods to a soldier who emerges from the guardroom and nods back. Without him asking, the driver replies: “We’re on a tourist excursion.” Everyone laughs, including the soldier.

We drive on as the road gets rougher. Four-wheel drive is essential for this journey. After several kilometers over a mountain track, we pass a man accompanied by a dog, apparently a shepherd. As he turns, the Kalashnikov slung over his shoulder can be seen, but he only shouts a greeting and moves on. He’s a “scout,” one of the passengers informs us. He points out an isolated house in the distance.

We arrive and go inside. Six wounded men are lying on the floor, some of them groaning in pain. “The brothers are from the Free Syrian Army,” the driver says. “They were wounded last night.”

There are also armed men in the house, fully bearded. The driver hands one of them a package, and turns to leave. What about “the sheikh,” we ask him? “You will meet him soon,” he replies.

We realize that this is not our destination. We get back into the car, this time with the driver alone, and continue the journey. A river flows across our route, but the driver fords right through it without hesitation. A tire gets stuck on a submerged rock, but he confidently negotiates his way out and carries on. Ten minutes later we arrive at a small house.

It is here that we have our first face-to-face encounter with Sheikh A. A., after months of contact by telephone. His light-hearted speech over the phone makes his appearance slightly surprising: the large beard gives him an aura of gravitas, despite the constant smile.

This is not the sheikh’s permanent base. He is constantly on the move between Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. He lived in the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh near Sidon for nearly a year, studying the Quran, before moving to the Bekaa. According to other sources, he has homes in Lebanon and Syria, and uses about ten other houses in the Bekaa and northern Lebanon to receive arriving “guests.” These are where they are provided with forged identity documents to help them move about more easily within Lebanon.

The sheikh gets up to greet us, orders tea, and all present retake their seats on the floor. The cushioned seating area occupies most of a large room with a rug and oil-fired heater in the middle. Eight Kalashnikovs lean against one wall.

He introduces four of the “brothers” present: three Syrians and an Algerian, all clean-shaven, who arrived from Syria the previous day. The others there keep their face-masks on throughout the encounter.

One of them, who leaves after finishing his tea, is identified as Abu-Muhammad. He is in charge of transporting weapons and people between Lebanon and Syria, and also finds safe houses in Beirut and Tripoli.

The sheikh begins the interview by asking us questions. “You journalists are best informed about what is going on.” We discuss developments in the region, and the men present seem convinced that the Arab revolutions are turning out “to our advantage.” It is hard to tell from their accents whether they are Syrian or Lebanese from border villages – whose dialect is very similar.

As the conversation turns to the situation in Syria, the sheikh makes no secret that his group “support the Syrian revolution by providing whatever arms we can to the mujahideen.” But he maintains that there has been a big decrease in weapons-smuggling from Lebanon to Syria of late, as the FSA has “taken control of arms depots inside Syria.”

The sheikh explains that the “jihadi Islamists” are separate from the FSA, although they work closely together and share common objectives. “There is also the religious connection, in that both belong to the Sunni Muslim sect,” he says, adding, “and they cooperate against a common enemy, the Syrian regime.”

He points out that the jihadi Salafis’ control of illicit border crossings between Syria and both Lebanon and Iraq makes it easier for the FSA to employ local smugglers to transport weapons and fighters into the country.

The conversation turns to al-Qaeda’s activities inside Lebanon. One of those present says that the leadership of al-Qaeda dispatched a large number of its operatives to Lebanon recently to assess the situation in the country and the prospects for launching jihad there. They totalled around 50 people, who arrived from Libya (including three al-Qaeda figures recently freed from jail) , Tunisia, Syria, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia.

The sheikh speaks of a group that went to Ain al-Hilweh, consisting of three Saudis, three Iraqis, two Syrians and a Tunisian, and of reconnaissance missions being carried out between Beirut and Tripoli.

“Al-Qaeda’s envoys,” according to our interlocutors, were impressed. After completing their mission to Lebanon, they reached a “positive” conclusion: that “the ground is fertile for jihadi action.” The envoys apparently resolved that the time was ripe for al-Qaeda to launch a new undertaking in Bilad ash-Sham (Greater Syria).

Sleeper cells

Meanwhile, we ask if our hosts can shed light on the alleged al-Qaeda leader whose attempted arrest was announced by Lebanese security forces in Arsal in the western Bekaa on 22 November 2011, and who was referred to by the initials M. Sh. They burst out laughing.

The sheikh says the name is incorrect. The man concerned is Hamza al-Qurqouz, a Syrian in his mid 20s, and a leading al-Qaeda figure who liaises between the mujahideen in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. He was at this very house just the previous day.

Two of the masked men say they were in Arsal at the time. They clearly enjoy relating how they overpowered and disarmed the men from Lebanese intelligence who raided the premises, apparently unaware they would be outnumbered. Qarqouz formally introduced himself to the agents, then left by the back door.

Lebanese security sources latter admitted the blunder to Al-Akhbar, but gave a somewhat different account on behalf of military intelligence. They said intelligence and surveillance indicated that a leading al-Qaeda figure was present at a house in Arsal. Security forces arrived at the site in four vehicles, raided it, and arrested the suspect.

Things only went wrong when the officer in charge decided to quickly question the detainee on the spot in the hope of making further arrests, the sources explained.

He led them to another house, and unwittingly into a trap. When the agents went in, they were overpowered by gunmen, who made off with Qarqouz. That was when he mockingly introduced himself to the intelligence officers, who were disarmed and allowed to leave.

The name of another important al-Qaeda figure arises in the conversation with the sheikh and his followers. This person is wanted for involvement in terrorist attacks in both Syria and Lebanon, including the September 2008 Bahsas bombing in Tripoli in which four soldiers and two civilians were killed.

According to information gleaned from a variety of sources, this “brother” had been operating out of the al-Zeib district of Ain al-Hilweh. About three months ago, he left for about a week, and after returning paid a sum of money to a local leader of the mainstream Palestinian Fateh movement in exchange for the provision of weapons to members of the Jund ash-Sham and Fath al-Islam groups. Accommodation was also secured in the camp for arriving Arab volunteers.

The “brother” concerned then apparently left Ain al-Hilweh for a village in the northern Bekaa. After staying nearby for three days, he crossed into Syria, and then to the Khaldieh district of Homs, from where al-Qaeda members in Syria assisted him in reaching Iraq. He resurfaced in Ain al-Hilweh some time later, accompanied by two al-Qaeda envoys. They are said to have been charged with bringing together the remnants of Fateh al-Islam with other jihadis who broke away from groups such as Jund ash-Sham, the Mujahid Islamic Group, and Usbat al-Ansar.

The sources also speak of reports than an eleven-strong jihadi Salafi groups recently arrived in Lebanon – consisting of six Saudis, three Palestinian and two Syrians – via Beirut airport and overland from Syria . They were sent to various refugee camps, and their arrival coincided with the return to Lebanon from Iraq of some Palestinian jihadis.

There has also been a marked increase in Salafi religious proselytizing in Burj al-Barajneh camp in Beirut. A recent profusion of “unfamiliar faces” has been reported in an outlying part of the camp, where a basement is also said to be used for weapons training.

In Lebanon, the discussion is whether al-Qaeda seeks to use the country as a “corridor” or a “base.” While the fighters around the sheikh seem unconcerned with the distinction, there is growing evidence from various sources – and various parts of the country – that al-Qaeda is forging ahead either way.

The time to awaken the “sleeper-cells” may be close.


The Border’s New Guards

Gunmen control most of the illegal border crossings between Syria and Lebanon. At first you assume they’re smugglers, but you soon learn otherwise. “These are the brother mujahideen,” says your guide.

About 150 of them are said to be deployed in the rugged terrain separating the two countries. They include about 50 Lebanese jihadists, and most of the remainder are Syrians, but there are nationals of several other countries too.

It is unclear what their relationship is with the smugglers who have long operated here. One of the “brothers” says that the mujahideen use the smugglers, who help them move weapons, food and injured people to and from villages in the northern Bekaa.

The fighters also take money or payment in kind – diesel fuel or food – from the smugglers in return for letting them through.

Do they tax them?

“Not taxes,” he laughs, “donations!”

When asked what happens if people won’t pay, he answers that they always do, willingly.

Another remarks that while smugglers used to have to pay “bribes” to Syrian border patrols, now they contribute to “supporting the Sunni faithful in their revolution against the tyrant.”


Mujahideen from Morocco and Algeria

Security investigations into the battles at Nahr al-Bared refugee camp in 2007 confirmed that most of the Fateh al-Islam fighters entered the country via illegal border crossing in the north and northern Bekaa – particularly the Wadi Khaled district.

A local smuggler told Al-Akhbar how he ended up spending years in jail for unwittingly bringing al-Qaeda operatives into the country.

He was on a routine foray across the border to bring back a consignment of diesel fuel, when a Syrian smuggler asked if he could take three Moroccan passengers with him in his vehicle. They offered to pay US$30 each, which the smuggler said was too little, but they insisted that was all the money they had. As he was crossing back anyway, he decided to take them along.

Once in Wadi Khaled, the Moroccans told the smuggler that the person who was meant to meet them had not shown up. He put them up in his own home, hosting them for three days, and they then departed. He never heard from them again.

Over a year later, he was arrested and jailed on charges of harboring terrorists.

Another smuggler’s story was told to Al-Akhbar by a jihadi Salafi. This man allegedly brought in a couple of mujahideen from Algeria, but held them captive and demanded a ransom for their release. But the “brothers” quickly got the measure of things, and sent a party to “free the young men and teach the smuggler a lesson.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

The Saudi’s “Moderate Death Squad” Islamist Front Targets Lebanon PM

[This is the truth about the murderous fanatics of Prince Turki’s “Islamist Front.”  Their car-bombs are just as immorally criminal as the “al-Qaeda” parent group.  These are the bloody terrorist bastards that Turki and the other royals are trying so hard to force upon the United States.  Royals beware, it is only a matter of time before the real “Islamists” in your employ start targeting the anti-Islamic royals and your Zionist pals. 

You camel-herding assholes are messing-up big-time, by pushing your nightmares upon the world.]

The Salafi Plot to Assassinate Najib Mikati

alakhbar

 

The Government Guard has stepped up its security measures over the past two days in the vicinity of Mikati’s home in Tripoli, and those of his family. (Photo: Haitham Moussawi)

 

Published Saturday, February 1, 2014

 

Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces (ISF) have circulated a warning that Prime Minister Najib Mikati has been named as a possible target for assassination. Some security officials have downplayed the threat, but others are taking it seriously, given al-Qaeda’s increased activity in Lebanon, particularly in the north and the Bekaa.

 

Is Mikati now on an al-Qaeda hit list? A memo dispatched by the chief of the Government Guard, states:

 

“Information has come to light that an explosive charge has been planted in a champagne-color Kia SUV, driven by a Syrian suicide bomber named Abu al-Adnan from the Khaled bin al-Walid Brigades of the Islamic Front. The car might target a senior political figure in Tripoli or Beirut, and has started moving closer to the target. There are [also] reports about a black bomb-rigged Honda that might be detonated in Tripoli near the house of the figure in question.”

 

When the memo was first publicized, it was thought to be one of a dozen similar reports circulated by the security services to their units, based on tips from informants or “technical sources,” like phone and electronic surveillance.

 

But upon closer examination, it can be seen that it was the Directorate General of the ISF itself that issued the warning, while the original information had named the target as Mikati. Furthermore, it appears that the Government Guard has stepped up its security measures over the past two days in the vicinity of Mikati’s home in Tripoli, and those of his family.

Some of the security officials we spoke to downplayed the report, saying, “We know that this is not a credible threat.” But if so, then why was the information circulated? One security official answered, “We cannot afford to be complacent about such information. We circulate it to fulfill our duties and allow precautionary measures to be taken.”

 

The report identified the Islamic Front as the party planning to assassinate Mikati. The Islamic Front is a Syrian opposition group that was formed two months ago, merging a number of Syrian opposition factions. The backbone of the Front is made up of Salafi fighters and clerics, with various political affiliations. Some are backed by Turkey, others by Qatar, but a majority of them are closely linked to Saudi intelligence.

 

Some political sources have found reason for pause in this information, especially since it is emerging in parallel with an incitement campaign led by the Future Movement – and Saudi Arabia – in North Lebanon against Mikati, even though he resigned as prime minister more than 10 months ago, in deference to a Saudi desire to remove Hezbollah from the government. Sources said that Saudi Arabia’s doors remain closed to Mikati.

 

Incitement in the north is not limited to Mikati. Prominent clerics in Tripoli have also complained about receiving death threats from Salafi extremists affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

 

Clerics and security officials reckoned that the threat is serious because it comes at a time when al-Qaeda affiliated groups are operating freely in the north and Bekaa. In some areas, for example, armed militants from al-Qaeda affiliates like al-Nusra Front and ISIS now appear publicly, from Tripoli to Akkar, all the way to Ersal.

 

These areas, despite the Future Movement’s clout, are now practically in the hands of extremist groups, including those close to al-Qaeda. Indeed, on the ground, the Future Movement’s strength in Tripoli is in decline. People previously thought to be supporters of Future are now closer to the discourse of al-Qaeda. Similarly in Ersal, mayor Ali al-Houjeiri and other Future-affiliated figures no longer control things on the ground, and have long been overtaken by al-Nusra- and ISIS-affiliated groups.

 

Sources close to the security establishment and Islamist sources say that ISIS has decided to expand into Lebanon. ISIS’ bid has been reinforced following the disputes among jihadi groups in Syria, for example, between ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, and al-Nusra leader Abu Mohammed al-Golani.

 

Twitter user @wikibaghdady, who has been leaking confidential information about ISIS for weeks, has mentioned that Baghdadi wants to expand his group and gather pledges of allegiance from all around the world, with the first logical destination after Iraq and Syria being Lebanon. Al-Qaeda’s successes in carrying out suicide bombings and other attacks in Bekaa and Beirut – against mostly civilian targets – has also helped ISIS’ bid. Al-Qaeda’s affiliates believe that by merely starting a battle with Hezbollah in Lebanon, jihadis everywhere will flock to the country.

 

Meanwhile, reports have surfaced regarding Lebanese Salafi groups heading to Syria to receive the approval of jihadi groups there to begin operating in Lebanon. A group led by a North Lebanon-man identified as A. M. reportedly went to Syria to obtain ISIS’ blessing, before returning to Tripoli.

 

(Al-Akhbar>