“Fateh Al-Islam”, an unachieved journey to “Al Qaeda” organization and an ambiguous link with “Fatah-Intifada”. “Al Hayat” visited “Fateh Al-Islam” in its northern camp in “Al Bared”, where nearly all speak classical Arabic with a Syrian accent. By Hazem Al-Amin.
By Hazem Al Amin, Al Hayat, March 28, 2007
Tripoli (North Lebanon) – The accusation imputed by Lebanese security services to “Fateh Al-Islam” group about being involved in Ain Alaq bombings in Mount Lebanon raised the issue of the presence of these groups inside the Palestinian refugee camp in Nahr Al Bared, especially that some persons who were accused are still in the northern camp. The accusation also raised some questions about the identity of these groups and what it was said about their connection to “Al Qaeda” organization, especially that they include, in “Samed” camp, activists from different nationalities: Syrian, Saudi, Yemeni, Algerian and Moroccan. This doesn’t seem a sufficient proof of “Al Qaeda”-like activities related to this group. Information given to “Al Hayat” mentioned that it’s a hybrid group that includes different security service members, as well as some elements upholding the “Salafi Jihadi” ideology and willing to go to Iraq.
“Al Hayat” visited the camp of this group in Nahr Al Bared camp, North Lebanon, and met with their spokesman. It asked the residents of the camp, the Lebanese security services and Islamist activists about this phenomenon: below is the full story.
Nahr Al Bared Camp
A man is lying back on his chair next to his shop in the Palestinian refugee camp in Nahr Al Bared in North Lebanon. He hung a signboard above his shop reading: “Circumciser of Al Saffouri Sons”. The man is almost sleepy, the security situation in these days negatively affected the market. Last night, the camp witnessed the death of one of “Fateh Al-Islam” members during a clash with anonymous elements. He is the “circumciser” of the camp, who scares children every time they pass by his shop in the center of the market. He’s a middle-aged man, tall and thin, with grey hair. A silent man, whose silence reflects the stillness of his occupation, he does everything without saying a word, giving the impression that he wouldn’t answer if you ask him any question. Thus, we sought another man to inquire about a wise subject.
The Palestinian faction militants’ dismays in Nahr Al Bared due to the presence of “Fateh Al-Islam” members in the camp is different from the one expressed by the residents. The militants dismay seems packed with politics and fears from the arrival of “Fateh Al-Islam” to the camp while the residents dismay stems from issues related to the inactive market and the lack of any flow of outer residents who come to the camp to shop. Some residents praise “Fateh Al-Islam” members and express their admiration to these strangers who came to the camp a year ago. They installed themselves in “Fatah-Intifada” movement camps in the northern regions and in the western north regions of the camp.
“They are strangers in the camp” is the recurring expression you hear from militants in Palestinian organizations in the camp. Most of them are Syrians; some are Saudis, Yemenis and Lebanese. Palestinians maybe come at the end of the list, while Lebanese security sources add Moroccans and Algerians to these nationalities.
Why did they come to the camp? How did their number reach 150 fighters? Some brought their family and rent houses next to the camp. There are no specific answers to many questions about the presence of “Fateh Al-Islam” in the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr Al Bared. If they came all of a sudden from other camps, a great number of them joined “Samed” camp in Nahr Al Bared in the period following the disclosure of their arrival. The Lebanese army doubled its check points on the entrance of the camp that doesn’t exceed 1 km² long. Some activists affirm that after the Lebanese army entered “Ain Al Helweh” camp, some members of “Jend Al Sham” group who left “Taamir” region, went to Nahr Al Bared and joined “Fateh Al-Islam”. According to these activists, some Lebanese nationals from different regions joined them too. Lebanese security sources confirmed that almost five Lebanese, came from “Taamir” region, including a man called “Chehab Kaddour” alias “Abou Hourayra”, from Akkar who went to “Ain Al Helweh” camp in the nineties and then came back lately to join “Fateh Al-Islam” group in Nahr Al Bared.
Residents of “Al Bared” are aware of the arrival of “Fateh Al-Islam” members to their camp or at least the events that brought them. Although the members of the movement- stemming from “Fateh-Intifada”, which stemmed from “Fatah”, the main movement – are strangers in the camps, there is no deviation from a social strict order that refuses members from the outside. Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon have always been a shelter for strangers of various purposes and for other refugees who were thrown into Palestinian camps by Lebanese “communities”. They are Iraqis, Syrians, Kurds and others who resided and expanded in the Palestinian camps in Lebanon. In addition, “Al Bared” camp is a district market; it is linked to the Lebanese regions by the road connecting Tripoli to rural Akkar.
This however, doesn’t imply that the residents lack a common social fabric. Indeed, as other refugee camps residents, they come from Galilee villages; Safad, Saffouri, Saasaa, Loubieh, Khalssa, Safsaf and others. The camp is home for 35 thousand Palestinian refugees. Throughout the 55 years since its creation, it has produced an advanced architectural and civil pattern, compared to the other Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, despite junctures and mistakes.
The pictures of Saddam Hussein are widely spread everywhere in the camp: on houses and shops. It seems that the way Saddam Hussein was executed, stirred a wave of sympathy and compassion among the residents like in many Palestinian camps. This is undoubtedly linked to the mood allowing to accept a group like “Fateh Al Islam”, in light of the news about the relation of some of its members with the “Jihad” in Iraq. This acceptance however, doesn’t imply facilitating the establishment of the group or collaborating with them. Still, Nahr Al Bared camp, that is open to the social and security Lebanese and non Lebanese environment, wouldn’t have resisted the arrival of fighters who initially came as fighters within “Fatah-Intifada”, but then dissented and split in a process that is yet ambiguous.
The young man who is sitting next to his shop on the main camp road says that the accent of “Fateh Al-Islam” members is not Palestinian. He explains that their accent is “Islamist” and they don’t converse much with the residents of the camp. They probably don’t talk much in order to hide their nationality. Most of the time they use classical Arabic but the large majority has a Syrian accent when speaking.
In the vicinity of “Samed” center, their headquarter in the camp, a military car with a middle submachine gun and a veiled man is parked. A guard stands at the entrance of the camp; he doesn’t seem to examine closely the few passers-by. It’s the day that followed the death of a member of the group in a clash with anonymous armed elements. The anxiety was obvious on the faces of “Fateh Al-Islam” members, who are scrutinizing faces and moves. The guard said that the members are tired after they escorted the deceased in the funeral procession. We should wait until they finish their meal.
The waiting room can accommodate ten guests. It seems to be located on the southern part of the camp. The door leading to the inner camp discloses a small corner of “Samed” center; the area seems meant for training: some barbed wires are used to train for crawling. The small kitchen next to the modest reception room releases the smell of food and the voice of the chef talking to his colleague with a Lebanese accent. People who pass by the reception room to the inside of the camp are not veiled, unlike the members of the guard outside. The faces are confused and always evading. Some signs indicate that are not affiliated to “Al Qaeda” organization as it was said in Lebanon lately. “Al Qaeda” members who are in jail and in the camps are usually less confused. Furthermore, their beards are not similar to those of “Al Qaeda” members. Although these supposedly “Salafi-Jihadi” fighters are bearded, the way they trimmed their beards show that they are not expert in the matter. Nothing is concluding, these are mere observations.
A young man who talks with a Syrian accent draws closer followed by another cloaked man, probably Palestinian or maybe Lebanese, one of those who spent their days in the Palestinian camps. The cloaked man exerted a sizeable effort to provide the coherent language of any typical Sheikh of Salafi Daawa. He was about to succeed were it not for hesitating when trying to utter some words “Daawa” and Islamists experts are skilled at.
Buildings around the camp, where some of “Fateh Al-Islam” fighters must have rent houses for their families are lifeless. They look like uninhabited houses or houses abandoned by their residents. The district, unlike the other districts in the camp, is almost motionless. The majority of those passing by “Samed” center are young people who greet quickly the guard and resume their way without looking to the inside of the camp. Armed members flock out from the main entrance on motorcycles, heading toward the neighboring streets and coming back. Anxiety is apparent on all faces. Trust is scarce between passers by and armed persons, a feeling one gets from the signs people use around “Samed” camp.
Since the Lebanese security forces announced that “Fateh Al-Islam” group is involved in “Ain Alaq” bombings in Mount Lebanon, the camp is in a state of alert. The announcement held back the economic activity in the camp. The forces and the factions held daily meetings to discuss a possible attack by the Lebanese army after a noticeable increase in security control in the vicinity.
Abu Jaber, an official affiliated to “the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine” said that the solution of the “Fateh Al-Islam” issue will not be military. Should it be the way, it would lead to a real blood bath. He added: “everybody knows how these people came to the camp. The solution is to send them back to where they came from. In fact, this phenomenon has a close relation with “Fatah-Intifada” movement and these members are part of it, some Lebanese groups joined them lately. This is a potential solution.”
It seems that announcing the emergence of “Fateh Al-Islam” by the end of September, last year and the then circumstances are at the core of a debate in the camp. Back then, the presence of Chaker Al Abssi and some of his fighters within “Fatah-Intifada” camp and other Lebanese camps, was seen as a natural aspect. Thisis was the case until a clash blew up in “Bedawi” camp. Some of “Fatah” members were killed and the Lebanese security forces arrested two members of “Fatah-Intifada” who confessed the presence of Islamists in “Fatah-Intifada” camps and a plan to hit the UNIFIL forces in South Lebanon.
“Fatah-Intifada” denied any link with these elements, while Chaker Al Abssi announced that his group is autonomous and promptly occupied the premises of “Fatah-Intifada” in Nahr Al Bared” camp. Lebanese security sources confirmed the relation of “Fateh Al-Islam” with “Fatah-Intifada”, explaining that the story of splitting from the mainstream group is just a cover.
Sources provided “Al Hayat” with information and facts proving the connection between Chaker Al Abssi and his assistants with “Fatah-Intifada” command: the training camps affiliated to the movement in Bekaa and Bourj Al Barajne and Chatila camps in Beirut welcomed Abssi and his group when they came to Lebanon on July, last year. The same sources point out that the assistant of Abssi “Abou Medyen” is Syrian and is the leader of the group. The sources don’t deny the presence of members from different Arab nationalities among “Fateh Al-Islam” fighters, as it doesn’t deny the relation of this group with “Al Jihad” in Iraq, yet specifies that the insertion of these members aims at hiding their real identity.
The camps of “Fatah-Intifada” in Helweh and Kussaya in Bekaa welcomed fighters from different nationalities for military training. They were then disseminated according to the roles they were supposed to assume.
Thus, we are before different replicas of “Al Qaeda”, or in a sector where “Al Qaeda” functions are mixed with the “intelligence” role. The same applies to the members who participate in these activities. The Yemeni or the Saudi who comes from “Jihad” in Iraq trains with the Palestinian or the Syrian that joined “Fatah-Intifada.”
The Lebanese security sources stress that inducing Arabs from different nationalities to join “Fateh Al-Islam” aims at claiming that the group is an Arab “Jihadi” group and that its activities aren’t linked to the conflict in Lebanon. These information are based on the investigations the Lebanese services held with arrested Saudis who belong to this group. Those arrested elements revealed that they came to Lebanon immediately because it’s the “Land of Rabat” and “the Land of Nassra” and they are waiting to go to the land of Jihad in Iraq but they found themselves in Nahr Al Bared camp and nobody wanted to send them to Iraq. After they stayed for so long in Lebanon, young Saudis asked to meet with Sheikh Abdallah Al Bichi to request his advisory opinion about staying in Lebanon. The sources say that he came from Iran and stayed in the camp of “Fateh Al-Islam” but he didn’t advice young Saudis to stay in Lebanon and decided to leave. He was arrested by the Lebanese security services in the airport, along with four other Saudis from “Fateh Al-Islam” group who were willing to leave Lebanon. It seems that the training camps in Koussaya and Helweh were part of the network that has been producing “Moujahedin” throughout the last years.
Few Sheikhs from Tripoli say that tens of young northern asked them their advice about joining the training sessions in these camps. Sheikh Bilal Baroud who is a Salafist and the Imam of “Salam” mosque in Tripoli says that before they call themselves “Fateh Al-Islam”, they were “Fatah-Intifada” and they had relations with Abu Khaled Al Amla, this one used to call young people from the region to train them in Wadi Fissan next to Brital region (Bekaa). Young Lebanese went from Tebbeneh to attend these sessions. This happened one year before “Fateh Al-Islam” emerged.
Lebanese security sources say that during the phase that followed their attendance in the training camps in Bekaa, they went to Beirut camps. Bourj Al Barajneh camp was the center that welcomed them. They moved after July war to the North. Northern Islamist figures underline that “Fateh Al-Islam” group didn’t limit themselves to stay at the camp but sought to gain sway among the Lebanese Islamists and recruit a number of Lebanese belonging to “Daawa”. They succeeded in the deprived district of Tebbeneh in Tripoli.
The Lebanese army intelligence arrested a young individual, Khaled Mahmud, who belongs to the group of “Deniyeh”. Mahmud was linked to “Fateh Al-Islam” group. He tried to blow up a bomb targeting the patrol of the Lebanese army that came to arrest him.
It seems that Lebanese Sunni Islamists didn’t appreciate the emergence of “Fateh Al-Islam” months before it was introduced. The “Independent Islamic Gathering” official spokesman Khaled Daher comments: “We knew their purpose even before they announce it themselves. They declared that they belonged to “Fatah-Intifada”, while the group claimed that they were using them and never included them among their members.” They repeated the same words.
“The Islamic Gathering” sent during the month of Ramadan a delegation formed of its Sheikhs to explore their intentions. The delegation came back with a negative impression and revealed that the group intends to hit the UNIFIL. But Khaled Daher, the former representative of the “Islamic Jamaa'” he split from, discards any connection of this group with “Al Qaeda” organization. He points out to differences between the two patterns of action and thinking.
Sheikh Bilal Baroud, a member of the delegation “the Gathering” sent to meet Shaker Al Abssi explains: “When I met Abou Hussein Al Abssi I felt that he was in a confused situation and doesn’t know what to do. Maybe he thinks that “Fatah-Intifada” used him in a bad way so he expressed his anger by controlling their places and announcing “Fateh Al-Islam”. When I entered their camp in Nahr Al Bared, I was surprised by the armed people and the huge size of the camp. I told him: you are a colonel but it’s a military error. Your identity is disclosed and you can be targeted. I gave him the example of “Anssar Al Islam” in Kurdistan and explained how their camp was targeted, everybody was killed in one raid.”
The phenomenon of “Fateh Al-Islam” emerged in Nahr Al Bared after a difficult path in the training camps and in other Palestinian camps. The camp wants to resume its economic and social functions that have been hindered by the presence of this group in the different regions, in addition to the general Palestinian belief that defies disappointment and despair with a secret admiration for these groups who, according to him, does not belong to the “general pattern in the region”.
A quick tour in Nahr Al Bared camp gives you two impressions: trade and business prosperity along with slogans of resistance in Iraq and Palestine. Multiplying the security procedures around the camp threaten its social and economic openness to the Lebanese environment, a trend that is different from the situation in other Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. The camp of Ain Al Helweh in South Lebanon, besieged for more than ten years looms in the minds of Nahr Al Bared residents. The problem of the camp started with the emergence of “Ousbat Al Ansar” group and the camp became an isolated security area.
Will the emergence of “Fateh Al-Islam” set off the isolation of Nahr Al Bared camp? One of the young people in the camp said that a foreign journalist made a mistake when he wrote the name of the camp: “the camp of Nahr Ain Al Bared”. The youngster saw a bad omen in the confusion between these two names. He underlined: “we are expecting to live the same situation the residents of Ain Al Helweh camp endure”.
“Fateh Al-Islam” spokesman stressed : “We will not leave the camp.”
“Al Hayat” met the spokesman of “Fateh Al-Islam” who confirmed that the organization members refuse to leave the camp of Nahr Al Bared. Here is the text of the interview:
Al Hayat: what happened yesterday and how was the member who belongs to you killed?
“Fateh Al-Islam”: The first investigations show that our brother was going to his place, he received a bullet in his basin, it cut the artery, so he underwent a surgery but he died. It was meant to cause a riot and they wanted it to extend. We ask God to protect the blood of Muslims in this camp.
Al Hayat: If the residents of the camp asked you to leave will you?
“Fateh Al-Islam”: We have always said that this is the land of God, He grants it to the person He wants. We don’t recognize borders, this is the land of Muslims and we have the right to have it. We consider that the affliction is a necessary condition to the person who follows this way and this principle. Everybody opposed Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) when he announced the Daawa and preached among polytheists in Mecca “there is no God but Allah”. He stayed three years in “Choub Abi Taleb” until God granted him victory. The affliction is a condition if we follow this way and we are ready to bear these difficulties and more. But this became obvious and known to us, and we are working to convey this idea to the camp. So you are afflicted and everybody is subject to afflictions. But a moment later, this cloud is dispelled and the dawn shines. We consider that the pressure the security forces and Lebanese army exercise, aims at triggering a muddle inside the camp. Maybe they want to reconsider the issue of the camp and this is the beginning. We ask the residents of the camp to be aware enough.
Al Hayat: Are there contacts with the factions in other camp?
“Fateh Al-Islam”: We consider that all the factions broke up with “Fateh Al-Islam” movement, people who follow up the news heard of the statements issued by the factions saying that they disclaim “Fateh Al-Islam” and there is no possibility to hold dialogue with them, that is their problem, there were contacts with Imams and Sheikhs, they came to patch up the problem and to put an end to this issue.
Al Hayat: Do you insist that you have no relation with the persons they were arrested in Ain Alaq bombings?
“Fateh Al-Islam”: Exactly, we said that we have two of our members in the Lebanese jail, they were arrested in the Beddawi accident on November 24, 2006, but there are no arrested people among us.
Al Hayat: Are you ready to reach a consensus to put an end to the problem between you and the Lebanese security forces?
“Fateh Al-Islam”: This is a vague and large matter. Let’s see the consensus and then we will think how we are going to deal with it.
Al Hayat: Some said that the consensus would ask “Fateh Al-Islam” to go back to where they came from.
“Fateh Al-Islam”: If it’s like this, then we cannot think of it nor bargain over it.
Al Hayat: What’s the consensus in your opinion?
“Fateh Al-Islam”: We said that if there is an Islamic tribunal and its members are Muslims then we are ready to participate in this tribunal otherwise we are not ready to participate.
Al Hayat: Concerning the death of one of your members, how do you see the aftermath?
“Fateh Al-Islam”: According to us, the problem ended, we are seeking the person who did it, he will be punished and who isn’t guilty is discharged.
*Al-Hayat Translation Unit