A post by an unknown author titled, “Fatah al-Islam between Asad al-Jihad2 and al-Maqdisi / Lessons and Considerations,” has been making its rounds through the various forums. The author offered a scathing critique of Fatah al-Islam (FI) and of recent comments by FI’s Sharia Officer, Abu Abdallah al-Maqdisi (not to be confused with the Jordanian ideologue Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi). Using statements from Asad al-Jihad2 (AJ2), who is a possible al-Qaida (AQ) leader, the author argued that FI’s leadership lacked clarity in its mission and was too afraid to attack Israel.
In considering al-Maqdisi’s statements, the author concluded that al-Maqdisi:
- Is not in Lebanon
- Is not aware of the complex relationship between the Lebanese and the Palestinian refugees living in the camps
- Is not aware of the “sectarian balances” in Lebanon
- Is not aware of the extent of Hezbollah’s state building in Lebanon
He also criticized FI for not having Lebanese Sunni priorities when the organization started in 2006. He claimed, “The Sunni aspired to reach a balance with Hezbollah and were not looking to the Israeli danger.” These accusations echoed statements by AJ2, who the author claimed grasped the full picture of the various battles in Lebanon. AJ2 stated that when FI entered Lebanon, it quickly lost Sunni support because it “began provoking and targeting the weakest party in Lebanon, which was the Sunnis in the army and internal security. It lost the support of all the Sunni at the same time because of the slaughter that took place on elements of the army, who were sleeping or separated from their weapons.”
According to AJ2, at this point, FI had two choices. 1) Eliminate its Sunni enemies and establish an emirate in Tripoli before starting clashes with Hezbollah, which controls access to Israel. 2) Transform the Sunnis into a potent fighting force supported by a wide majority. However, AJ2 reported that FI did not have the opportunity to make any choice because it clashed with security forces too soon, causing the Nahr al-Bared siege. He claimed that the other jihadi groups in Lebanon did not support FI because it had lost popular support.
AJ2 also maintained that Syria is highly active in penetrating and disrupting jihadi cells in the Levant. He claimed that Hashim Minqara, the leader of the Islamic Unification Movement, and Najib Miqati, a former prime minister of Lebanon, gave former FI leader Shakir al-‘Absi to the Syrians. He singled out Minqara alleging that he not only helped capture al-Absi, but also helped Syria penetrate the jihadi groups to further Syrian relations with the Hariri family and to gather information to sell to the US and France. He stated that Syria had unsuccessfully tried similar operations with the Islamic State of Iraq.
According to the author, al-Maqdisi’s story largely confirmed that of AJ2, but al-Maqdisi also tried “to confirm the role of Fatah al-Islam in the leadership of al-Qaida in the Levant.” However, AJ2 stated that there were no organizational links between FI and al-Qaida in the Levant (AQL).
The author then offered lessons learned from al-Maqdisi’s statements and criticisms of these lessons. The first was the limitation for recruitment from secular Palestinian organizations that are close to Syria. Al-Maqdisi claimed that after al-‘Absi was released from prison in Syria, he contacted “the brothers” and “decided to carry out the plan” and “exploit” Fatah al-Intifada, the precursor to FI. He convinced members of Fatah al-Intifada to prepare for operations against Israel from Lebanon. Accepting all nationalities, he wanted to “transform the conflict with the Jews from a Jewish-Palestinian conflict to a conflict between the Ummah and the Jews.”
The author criticized this, stating “How could have al-‘Absi expected to establish all of these complicated operations, and include Arab mujahidin, without the attention of Syrian spies, or without Syrian intelligence attempting to plant its spies within the organization?”
The second lesson was the loss of FI’s priorities. The author stated that FI started training and sending fighters to Iraq, which represented a diversion from FI’s stated aims of attacking Israel. He then mentioned a FI desire to target the entire Levant. Finally, he stated that the last FI goal was establishing an Islamic emirate in northern Lebanon. He quoted al-Maqdisi, “After easily controlling the camp and gaining the loyalty of some of the Islamic groups, there was the idea of establishing an Islamic emirate in Tripoli as the key in the battle with the Jews and to assist their brothers in Iraq. It would also attract the downtrodden Sunni in Lebanon, who raced behind Hariri the apostate. Additionally, it would be for the sake of attracting Sunnis to Syria because the tyranny of the Baath Party forced them to fear themselves.”
The author countered, “What are the priorities of the organization? Fighting the Jews, combating the Syrian regime and besieging it, or supporting the mujahidin in Iraq with trained men?” He also asked how FI thought it could fight Israel, when it was trying to open a front with Syria. He added that if the goal was to train fighters and send them to Iraq, then why cause trouble with Syria. According to the author, regardless of what FI’s goal was, it was not taking a course of action that could have achieved any goal.
The third lesson was the danger of miscalculations. According to the author al-Maqdisi said, “The Fatah al-Islam leadership did not expect the Army to enter the [Nahr] al-Bared camp. It calculated politically that the clashes would last for two days or more and then there would be calm like what happened in Ain al-Hilweh.” He claimed that that the decision to enter the camps was taken internationally because they are linked to the UN. He also thought that Lebanon’s complicated politics would forestall the Army from entering the camp and that the US hastened the decision to enter because it learned about FI’s presence in the camp, and its strategy and future goals.
The author responded with a question about why FI did not fear the repercussions of a Lebanese Army attack, but feared what would happen if they carried out an alleged plan to abduct Israelis, which essentially states that FI was too scared to attack Israel.
Finally, al-Maqdisi supposedly claimed that it is best if a group does not announce its responsibility for terrorist attacks because the enemy does not know where to respond. The author thought that the idea was bad because anyone could use the group’s name for bloody acts.
Two developments from this story will be interesting to watch in the coming months. The first is the criticism of FI, which may evolve into another incidence of jihadis bickering amongst themselves. The second is the supposed announcement of AQL. AQ has long attempted to establish a presence in the Levant and many groups have claimed to be AQ syndicates. Over a year ago, AJ2 warned that AQ would announce its presence in the Levant after the US presidential elections and it would begin attacking Israel by 2010. It appears that he is keeping his word. However, I will believe AQ is an actual presence in the Levant when I see it due to the multitude of groups in the past claiming to be AQ and the difficult operating environment in the Levant, which is largely due to the lack of ungoverned spaces on the border with Israel. Nevertheless, al-Zarqawi managed attacks in Jordan and launched rockets into Israel, so an attack is not completely out of the question.