Al-Qaeda-linked ISIS opens branch in Lebanon
A recording by a previously unknown figure was distributed on jihadist forums on Saturday, announcing the creation of a Lebanese franchise for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Agence France-Presse reported.
In the recording, Abu Sayyaf al-Ansari swears allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Iraqi leader of ISIS, which has its roots in al-Qaeda in Iraq and emerged in Syria last spring.
He called on Sunnis to abandon the Lebanese “crusader” army, echoing allegations by Sunni Islamists that the armed forces are “backed by Hezbollah.”
“We pledge allegiance to the prince of the believers, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi... and we ask him to guide us past the obstacles, and make us your spearhead in crushing your enemy, and not a single man among us will hold back in helping you,” AFP quoted Ansari as saying.
In the five-minute recording, he said “a spokesman for ISIL in Lebanon” identified as Abu Omar al-Muhajir would soon make a statement of his own.
The recording comes after Lebanon’s former premier said that the country’s Sunni Muslims refuse to be a part of any conflict between al-Qaeda and the Shiite movement Hezbollah, and denounce violent sectarian attacks anywhere in the country.
“The Lebanese, and the Sunnis among them, refuse to be part of any war in Lebanon or the region between Hezbollah and al-Qaeda,” said Saad Hariri, who heads the anti-Syrian Future bloc.
He added: “They also refuse that the civilians in any region of Lebanon become the targets.”
Hariri’s statement came a day after an al-Qaeda-inspired jihadist group warned that all areas where Hezbollah operates are “legitimate targets,” telling Sunnis to avoid them.
It also came as new shelling from across the border hit the Hermel and Masharia al-Qaa areas of Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, causing no casualties.
The Nusra Front in Lebanon said it intended to attack strongholds of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah which could target any Shiite area.
The warning originally was made Friday on Twitter. It was reposted Saturday to websites used by militant groups.
The Nusra Front in Lebanon takes its name from the powerful al-Qaeda-linked group fighting in Syria against the rule of President Bashar Assad.
The war in neighboring Syria has inflamed sectarian tensions in Lebanon, with Hezbollah backing President Bashar al-Assad and many Sunnis supporting the rebellion against him.
The Nusra has claimed responsibility for two small bombing attacks targeting Lebanese Shiites in January that killed six people.
Hard-line Sunni groups increasingly have been targeting Lebanon’s Shiite minority, apparently as punishment for Hezbollah gunmen fighting alongside Assad’s forces in Syria.
Hariri reiterates position
On Saturday, Hariri also reiterated his opposition to Hezbollah's support for Assad, whom he has accused of ordering the assassination of his father, former premier Rafiq Hariri.
“Every sane and patriotic Lebanese, of any sect, will refuse to be dragged behind these (jihadist) calls, (just) as he refuses Hezbollah’s war in Syria,” AFP quoted Hariri as saying.
Also on Saturday, another salvo of shells hit the Bekaa Valley, which has suffered frequent cross-border assaults from Syria.
“Eight shells hit the outskirts of Hermel, while one landed inside the town, causing material damage to vehicles and houses,” a security source said.
“Three mortar rounds also struck the outskirts of Masharia al-Qaa” east of Hermel, the source added.