So What do we know about Fatah el Islam so far?
Different hypothetical scenarios rotate around Fatah el Islam. Some say it is al-Qa’eda, another bunch would say it is Syrian made; a third category would go and say it is both, and others would go as far as accusing the Future Movement of creating them (mainly by Free Patriotic Movement supporters). However, we lack a lot of information on them, and I will try to tackle this rough topic as much as I can.
We know for sure that they are Sunni Salafis in their extremist Islamist ideology. They proclaimed their affiliation to that. They also argued that to liberate Palestine their way, and they came to liberate the Sunni Sect. They attacked the Harriri Family, for being in alliance with the Maronite Lebanese Forces and Durzi Progressive Socialist Party. Such an alliance has “caused more suffering for the Sunnis”, and they are there for them. They are an offshoot from Fatah Intifada, who Syria supported towards the mid 1980s, to break away from Fatah (the core key player within the PLO then). Fatah Intifada played a role to oust Yasser Arafat from Nahr el Bared when Arafat returned from exile (the Phil Habib – Arafat – Begin deal: evacuating the PLO from West Beirut in 1982). They have been nine months old in existence, and till now we are not sure how or from where they came.
Their figure head, Abu Shaker al Absi’s story is rather complicated. He was the one who declared the split from Fatah Intifada last September, and his activist nickname was “Abu Husayen” (most Palestinian activists had their activist nicks as Abu something Abu means Father in Arabic, but can spread to have different meanings as well in Arabic). Sources differ on how they came to Nahr el Bared, but there was for sure a confrontation between Fatah Islam and a militant group called “Armed Struggle”. A lot of theories argue that when Fatah Islam split, they already had 150 to 200 members in it. One article argued that they had minor confrontations with other groups, but they won their way through the Nahr el Bared Camp through offering mini-welfare services. You have to keep in mind, Nahr el Bared, like most camps has several people who have arms. A friend of mine in Akkar told me that: “If Nahr el Bared has 30,000 residents, then at least 40% of them had arms”. This is probably over-inflated, but their means of attaining hold of the Nahr el Bared Refugee location still remains a mystery, specially they won’t be able to take it that easily if they were unwanted. Couple of TV stations did a review on them, and stressed on on one point, several residents starting leaving the camp ever since the Ain Ala’q bomb occurred.
Now these two statements were conducted on by TV. We still do not know how true this fact is, specially some residents said “they were nice”.
An article speculated that they received funding from Pro-Salafi residents. However this is not enough to purchase all those heavy duty arms. The Salafi fundings from Tripoli, unlike what this article argued, can barely sustain their tiny welfare networks. Their networks may not be that amazing compared to Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, but they have been considered a “wow” compared to the miserable conditions the Nahr el Bared camp live through.
Foreign connections: Qa’eda, Syria, or a third party? (Conspiracy Theory One
Shaker el Absi’s story is rather unique. He is supposed to be a Palestinian fugitive with suspected links, if not also cooperation, with Abu Mus’ab el Zarqawi, ex-leader of the Qa’eda in Iraq (assassinated by a US air raid in Iraq). He and Zarqawi were sentenced in absentee manner to death by a Jordanian Court after being both accused of assassinating, in 2002, US Diplomat Lawrence Foley. He was later arrested in Syria, under the accusation of planning terrorist attacks on the regime. Jordan demanded that Absi be turned on to the Jordanian authorities, but the Syrian regime refuted to do so. Rather, three years after his arrest, he was released and he was crossed Lebanese borders.
He immediately was active with Fatah Intifada in military training, in border al-Hilwi, next to Rashaya, then he moved to Qosaya (central Beqa’a Valley) to proceed with military training, which will carry the banner of “Fatah Al Islam”. In 2006, he moved to Burj el Barajni location, whereby he was heavily involved in building active cells, and afterward he moved to al-Badawi Camp, and eventually landed in Nahr el Bared after the al-Badawi incidents and two units confessed relations to Syrian Intelligence (how much that is to be confirmed, time will tell as well).
In Nahr el Badawi, and in the eyes of the Security Forces, he succeeded in spreading outside the Camp, and minor splinter cells were formed in unexpected residential areas. They rented in apartments within Tripoli unaffiliated with Islamist movements. To say the truth, my relatives in Tripoli, told me that they were two buildings down their house, and never expected it contained heavy arms.
A lot of speculations rotate around this organization and its nature. For starters, by now, it is confirmed that it has no relations with Palestine or any of the traditional Palestinian leaderships. All major parties denounced their relations to them, and attacked their aggression on the Lebanese Army and Institutions. They received funding either by local Salafi supporters, or stealing from banks (which triggered the whole thing when the Security Forces busted a house suspected of stealing a bank). Outside sources in relation to the camp are still not confirmed yet, but the movement itself is supposedly to be made up of different nationalities that have Islamist Activists. Their members are also suspected to have participated in combat operation against the US and Shiites in Iraq.
In relations to the al-Qa’eda, they denounced any affiliations to them, or “anyone else on face of this planet.” Yet, they welcomed their initiatives as ‘brethrens’. Their statements also, according to couple of articles, appeared on Qa’eda supportive sites. In one speech, they adopted a similar speech which targeted the Sunni side of Lebanon that targeted the Harriri family, and attacked them as causing misery for the Sunnis, who are supposed to be the True Muslims. They never tackled the topic of Hezbollah, who al-Qa’eda targeted them as sinners. Al-Qa’eda never considered the Shiites as Muslims, yet Fatah Islam never tackled the issue of Hezbollah. Another light shed on the Qa’eda relations goes between one targeted Fatah Islam figurehead, to be wanted in suspected Bombing Attempts on Berlin’s trains.
Security Forces official accused Fatah Islam as Syrian made, forged in al-Qa’eda model, to cover Syrian ties. Walid Junblatt, 14th of March spearhead, also accused Fatah Islam to be collaborating with Ahmad Gibreel’s Popular Front From the Liberation of Palestine – General Command (not to be mistaken with George Habash’s PFLP). 14th of March’s accusations towards Fatah Islam and Syria ranged between obstructing the International Tribunal, to “Syria hitting the Summer Season”, as far as Syrian presence.
In any case, Fatah Islam turns out to be military trained, rather random Islamist with AK-47s. Moreover, the link between Syria and Fatah Islam has been repeated on the logic of how Syria releases a criminal wanted in a neighboring country (Jordan) to Lebanon. Moreover, how can one person establish such ties? There had to be a tie, and to 14th of March, that link is Syria. Now, al-Shari’, proclaimed that Fatah Islam are an illegal entity in Syria as well. Earlier, they killed four Fatah Islam members on Syrian borders trying to cross towards Iraq. Moreover, Nasrallah and al-Absi never attacked each other. Al-Absi never targeted Hezbollah, while Nasrallah’s speech was denouncing any offensive on the army, and at the same time considered the Nahr el Bared is off limits to the Lebanese Army. To some, that would be considered this clear avoidance of clashes between Fatah Islam and Hezbollah as to avoid conflict of interests between Iran (Hezbollah) and Syria (Fatah Islam).
Interestingly, a multi-Islamist national member of Fatah Islam, forged in the manner of al-Qa’eda’s moujahidean, can be active in Nahr el Bared, and attain all those arms without Syrian (well also Lebanese as well) to know off. Some would reply that Syria withdrew from Lebanon in 2005, but again wasn’t al-Absi involved in potential terrorist acts in Syria before released, much to the displeasure of Jordan, to Lebanon?
Al-Absi issued a statement that they were not involved in the offensive that occurred on the Lebanese Army, and argued another party was responsible. However, if that is the case, why the army officials and internal security officials argued that they were Fatah Islam, and why Fatah Islam in the first place was brutal with threatening deeds? More threateningly, Fatah Islam proclaimed that they have their “Is-tish-hadyein” (those who pull suicidal operations), and threatened that they wouldn’t hesitate to use them. Three bombs so far exploded, one a Christian area, one in a Muslim area, and one in a Durzi location (Alley). The explosions could have targeted civilian casualties, but seemed the bombings targeted three geographic commercial locations (Alley Market Location – Verdun – ABC Ashrafieh Center). Qa’eda logic, based on what we perceived in Iraq, is to establish maximum civilian deaths in most of the occasions.
The US’s Dirty Hands? (Conspiracy Theory II)
This is one side of accusations, in another set of accusation, things even go more complicated.
Seymour Hersh argued that in March that the US’s new foreign policy towards the Middle East would be weakening or in fact fighting anything affiliated with Iran/Syria, and their alliances, this would include supporting Sunni extremist groups in the face of this coalition. Lebanon would fit this scenario in the manner that Fatah Islam is one of those extremist groups carved out of the blues with nice juicy funding to balance against Hezbollah’s arms. On May 22, Seymour Hersh confirmed that the United States and Prince al-Bandar Bin Sultan (National Security Advisor in Saudi Arabia), did support the Fatah Islam; however, like the prior accusations, we have not found any evidence on the matter. Hersh based his observations on the Afghanistan Wars during the Soviet Invasion. Both Saudi Arabia and the United States supported the extremist Jihadis against the Soviet Union who would become Taliban and al-Qa’eda. This was also observed between the clashes of PLO and Israel. Israel turned a blind eye on the Muslim Brotherhood building its welfare networks within Palestine, to weaken Secular PLO. Eventually, the Muslim Brotherhood spearheaded the first Intifada, and they developed their military faction Hamas. The third observation would be Saudi Arabia’s funding to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt during Nasser’s regime and his flirtations with the socialist Eastern European camp.
More interestingly, Saudi Arabia’s ally is Sa’ad Harriri. First impression would be that Harriri is allied to the Wahhabis, despite the fact that Harriri is a secular business man (actually comes from a family of businessmen). This means no way Harriri’s machinery would support Fatah Islam.
Second, a question would be targeted is why would the Saudis/US/14th of March support a radical group in order to face Hezbollah while its backbone for order and security is the Lebanese Army which is currently under fire with Fatah Islam? If Fatah Islam supposed to face the heavily organized Hezbollah militarily, then why it clashes with the Lebanese Army? An answer would be that this tiny group was patched up in order to justify international support of upgrading and updating the outdated Lebanese Army. Moreover, that way the army can be strong enough to support the current government, specially there is an aerial US line supporting the army with 280 million dollars of value. Closer look shows that the army through these cargos still didn’t get practical weaponry to defend itself from Syria or Israel, or Hezbollah if we go with the US logic of containing Hezbollah.
The question goes bottom line, why the borders were not properly protected, on Lebanese Borders (Israel/Syria/Sea) to prevent importation of weaponry. Well, the whole UNIFIL couldn’t prevent the smuggling of arms to Hezbollah, how to control a strong financed but small group like Fatah Islam. This leads some people to question if the government was turning a blind eye on the smuggling. Others would argue that the Lebanese Army due to the Cairo Agreement of 1969 are not allowed to enter the Palestinian Refugee Camps. Yet, how did the weapons arrived to the camps? How were Fatah Islam able to rent apartments and smuggle weaponry to apartments located in non-Islamist streets of Tripoly?
Several questions, several probabilities! As you have seen, these are part of several theories constructed on Fatah Islam, and their origins. Several questions, and the answers would probably would take a long time to be answered.
Meanwhile we walk over here, and to say the truth, every car I see, I would think “will this one go boom” or “where’s next”. Me and my friends always hope that the Fatah Islam were bluffing about the Suicidal Operations they threatened to unleash. Till now we have seen one case only, the man who returned to the Abdu building, and asked the officers to meet up with him when he was under siege; eventually he blew himself up, luckily the Lebanese Army officers didn’t enter the camp.
Also, racism is rising within Lebanon. Some sick people are celebrating that the Palestinians’ turn has come to repay their debts for the Civil War (although they were part of it as well). Others are celebrating that Nahr el Bared will become the next Tel Zaatar, even though the Palestinians are not concerned in this clash. (I think these people need a psychiatrists).
Statistics today, refugees from Nahr el Bared have reached 18,000, bad humanitarian crisis is taking place. Some people are hoping that the Lebanese Army will dump the whole Palestinians into the sea (which will never happen) if they are realistic.
One last note: for all those who are cheering the army (because suddenly it has nationalistic value), why the hell most of the (specially male) supporters were ditching or trying to ditch the Lebanese Army when it was obligatory to do the one year service?! This question is directed towards the racists faction of the supporters!
New York Times
Assafir Link 2