The rules of the game have changed. “Iraq-style” suicide bombers have been introduced to the mix with the double bombings that targeted the Iranian embassy in Beirut on Tuesday, November 19.
The first suicide bomber is thought to have opened the way for the second – and for a new phase of confrontation on Lebanese territory. The radical jihadis thus carried out their previous threats of converting Lebanon from an arena of “solidarity” to an arena of direct “jihad,” blaming the hostilities on Hezbollah because of its involvement in the fighting in Syria.
The sound of the blasts had barely subsided when Sirajuddin Zureiqat, leader of the Lebanese branch of the al-Qaeda-affiliated Abdullah Azzam Brigades, claimed responsibility for the attack on Twitter, declaring the suicide bombers “two heroes of the Sunnis in Lebanon,” and dubbing the attack “the Iranian Embassy raid in Beirut.”
With this, a hitherto-unknown branch of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades entered the limelight. In addition to the already known Ziad Jarrah Brigades, Zureiqat unveiled the Hussein bin Ali Brigades, warning, “Operations in Lebanon will continue, God willing, until two things are achieved: withdrawing the members of Iran’s Party [i.e. Hezbollah] from Syria, and releasing our prisoners from the prisons of oppression in Lebanon.”
The two explosions that rocked Beirut yesterday were unexpected in that their timing was surprising, and they caught everyone off-guard. Although there was a general anticipation that a car bomb would hit on the Shia festival of Ashura, the assailants decided otherwise.
But Tuesday’s bombing follows the two car-bomb attacks in Bir al-Abed and Roueiss, both in the same general area of Beirut’s southern suburbs. So are the Abdullah Azzam Brigades really behind the Iranian embassy attack on its own? Security sources revealed to Al-Akhbar that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) recently made a decision to carry out suicide attacks against “Shia targets” in Lebanon, pointing out that its list of targets also includes pro-Hezbollah Sunni figures.
Reports corroborated by multiple security sources indicate that ISIS seriously intends to move the battle with Hezbollah inside Lebanon. This premise is supported by the confessions of a Hassan M., who was detained by the Internal Security Forces Information Branch in the Bekaa.
Hassan confessed that he sold a car to members of ISIS. After a car rigged to explode was found in the Maamoura district of the southern suburb, M. complained to ISIS leader Abu Abdullah al-Iraqi that the car was still registered in his name.
Iraqi told him that they had not rigged his car, but used it to transport suicide bombers. Yet Hezbollah apprehended the men on board before claiming in the media that it was a car bomb in order to keep the men in its custody.
According to security reports, the group is also involved in the Roueiss bombing, with the perpetrators crossing into Lebanon through Ersal with assistance from one of the town’s residents. According to security sources, “What applies to investigations over the car bombs in Roueiss and Mreijeh may also applies to the Iranian embassy bombings.”
In other words, ISIS, led by Abu Bakr al-Iraqi, has declared war in Lebanon. This could also mean that ISIS is collaborating with the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, especially since ISIS has better capabilities, while the brigades could have been assigned to claim responsibility through Zureiqat.
According to security reports, the latter has been in Syria for more than a year, and travels to Lebanon from time to time. Furthermore, there is information holding that the IP address Zureiqat used to log on to his Twitter account came from Syria, and that he had only resumed his presence on Twitter in the past few days. By Tuesday evening, Zureiqat and the Abdullah Azzam Brigades’ Twitter accounts disappeared, and it was unclear whether the group or Twitter deleted them.
On the other hand, other security sources told Al-Akhbar that the Abdullah Azzam Brigades were planning to engage Hezbollah in this kind of confrontation. The same sources asserted that cells affiliated with Saudi cleric Majed al-Majed and Palestinian cleric Tawfiq Taha would not hesitate for a moment in carrying out such attacks, based on the statements the clerics made threatening Shias and Hezbollah unless they distance themselves from Bashar al-Assad and “withdraw from the war on Sunnis in Syria.”
The Lebanese al-Qaeda Leader
Lebanese cleric Sirajuddin Zureiqat claimed the twin suicide attack on the Iranian embassy on behalf of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades. Zureiqat was previously detained for a few hours by Lebanese army intelligence in 2011 on charges of engaging in terrorist activities.
Zureiqat was let go after strong political pressure, including from Grand Mufti of Lebanon Mohammed Rashid Qabbani, who, from Turkey, called the commander of the Lebanese army Jean Qahwaji denouncing Zureiqat’s arrest without regard to Dar al-Fatwa and the “dignity of the turban worn by the sheikh.”
Shortly after he was released, he disappeared for a while before appearing months later in a recording on behalf of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades. According to reports, Zureiqat lived in the Tariq al-Jdideh district of Beirut and worked in a religious recording store. According to security sources, Zureikat was involved in recruiting young people for military training in Iraq and Afghanistan.
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