Fatah al-Islam

FormedNovember 2006
DisbandedGroup is active.
First Attack2007: The group fought the Lebanese army near the northern port city of Tripoli in the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp after Lebanese troops were searching for suspects of a bank robbery. The fighting lasted three months until the Lebanese army regained control of the camp (Over 400 hundred people died, including civilians).[1]
Last AttackMay 31, 2008: The group claimed responsibility for an explosion in Abdeh, Northern Providence, Lebanon (1 Lebanese soldier killed).[2]
UpdatedFebruary 11, 2012

Narrative Summary

Fatah al-Islam's nascence stems out of the Lebanese terrorist group, Fatah al-Intafada (Fatah Uprising), a Syrian supported Palestinian group that split from Yasser Arafat's organization Fatah.[3] Al Abssi, a senior leader, felt betrayed after Fatah al Intifada leaders handed over two of his men to Lebanese intelligence and thus decided to form Fatah al Islam in 2006. Al Abssi denounced his former group's corruption and moved his 400-500 fighters from Shatila camp to Baddaqi and Nahr al Bared in northern Lebanon.[4] Fatah al-Islam asserted themselves as the "Sons of the Palestinian National Liberation Movement" and distributed a statement throughout Nah al-Bared, a Palestinian refugee camp near Tripoli, vowing to wage a holy war to liberate Palestinians.[5] 

In 2007 Fatah al-Islam accrued international recognition after fighting the Lebanese Army in the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp. It is assumed that the group recruited and provided military training to young Palestinians among the camp's 22,000 refugees.[6] With more recruits, Fatah al-Islam's nationalistic ideology radicalized and expanded from a nationalistic focus to support global jihad. The organization held a natural proclivity towards Al Qaeda as its first leader Abssi held strong ties to Abu Masab Al-Zarqawi, former leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq. 

The Lebanese Army Intelligence has been aggressive in hunting down Fatah al Islam members. In 2007 the army launched a campaign, led by Michel Suleiman before he was elected Lebanon's president in May, to eradicate the group from the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp.[7] The battle lasted four months, about 170 soldiers were killed, and Fatah al-Islam was eventually extricated from the camp. Although the military accomplished their mission, Fatah-al Islam was not eradicated as key group members fled to hide amongst sympathizers and amidst other Palestinian refugee camps.[8] 

After Abssi's was assassinated in 2008, Abdul Rahman Awad became leader and moved Fatah al-Islam to another Palestinian refugee camp, Ain al-Hilweh. From this camp several Fatah al-Islam members left to fight in Iraq while other members left to escape prosecution or confinement in the overcrowded camp.[9] However, Fatah al-Islam continued to conduct hostile activity towards the Lebanese, including bombing UN troops in Southern Lebanon in June 2007, bombing a military bus in Tripoli in 2008. They maintained a regional threat as they were responsible for a rocket attack on an Israeli settlement in May 2008 and were accused of being the culprits behind a car bombing in Damascus in September 2008. Although Fatah al-Islam was highly active in 2008, the Lebanese military successes in capturing group members have weakened the organization and have marginalized Al Qaeda's efforts to use Fatah al Islam as a conduit in Lebanon and Syria.[10] 

While factions of Fatah al-Islam remain, it is unclear what plans they are implementing today, especially after a large portion of their leadership has been destroyed.

Leadership

  1. Abu al-Hassan (Unknown to Unknown): Communications adviser[11]
  2. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (Unknown to 2006): Al-Abbsi's associate and the founder of al Qaeda in Iraq, killed in American air strike[12]
  3. Shehab al-Qadour aka Abu Hureira (Unknown to 2007): Former military commander[13]
  4. Abu Madyan (Unknown to 2007): Former second-in-command.[14]
  5. Abu Salim Taha (Unknown to 2007): Former Spokesman[15]
  6. Bilal Drakish aka Abu Jandal (Unknown to 2007): Senior terrorist[16]
  7. Shaker al-Abssi (Unknown to 2008): Former leader[17]
  8. Ghazi Faysal Abdalluh (Unknown to 2010): Former deputy, killed in Iraq[18]
  9. Abdulrahman Awad (2008 to 2010): Former leader, killed in Iraq[19]
  10. Osama al-Shahabi (2010 to Present): Group leader[20]
  11. Toufiq Tah (2010 to Present): Group deputy[21]
  12. Haitham al-Shaabi (2010 to Present): Group deputy[22]
  13. Muhammad al-Shaabi (2010 to Present): Group deputy[23]

Ideology & Goals

As a nascent organization, Fatah al-Islam maintained two goals: to reform the Palestinian refugee community in Lebanon in accordance with Sharia law, and to form a resistance movement against Israel.[24] With the addition of new members and the group's close ties with Al Qaeda, the mission has expanded to include expelling the United States from the Islamic World.


The shift in ideology is deemed to have occurred with the joining of Nasser Ismail and Abu Hureira. Nasser Ismail was an influential member of Nahr al Bared and helped control factions inside the camp that opposed Fatah al Islam. He also recruited Abu Hureira, a former member of Osbat al Ansar[25] and then Jund al Sham, militant organizations from southern Lebanon that oppose the Lebanese government.[26] He brought along with him extremist ideologies that radicalized Fatah al-Islam along with loyal Lebanese fighters who used to belong to Jund al Sham.[27] Along with Abu Hureira joined Abu al Hareth, a Saudi cleric linked to Al Qaeda, who joined the shura council. Hareth was instrumental in increasing the number of foreign fighters in Fatah al-Islam, some of whom aspired to create an Islamic state in northern Lebanon.[28] In Abssi's first interview with Western reporters, he stated that he shared Al Qaeda's fundamentalist interpretation and works to promote the creation of a global Islamic nation.[29] However, Fatah al-Islam and Al Qaeda disagree about the treatment of Shias. 

Though Fatah al-Islam is a Sunni group, Al Abssi did not deny that Shais were Muslims. Unlike Al Qaeda ideology, he did not believe his group should engage in takfir, an act that involves anathematizing Muslims who stray from a Salafi interpretation of Islam. .[30]

Size Estimates

Designated/Listed

In August 2009 the US State Department designated Fatah al Islam a terrorist organization. The Department accused the group of, "having committed, or poses a significant risk of committing, acts of terrorism that threaten the security of US nationals or the national security, foreign policy, or economy of the United States."[34] The group was officially called, "a Specially Designated Global Terrorist," a status that severs the group from the US financial system.[35]

Resources

Fatah al-Islam's resources come from a variety of places. As far as human resources, the group has been able to recruit in Palestinian refugee camps. In addition, intelligence officials estimated that under Abssi's rule, the group had 50 militants from Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries who had returned from fighting in Iraq.[36] <br> <br>The source of funding for Fatah al-Islam is largely unknown. The group was accruing money through bank robberies, which ultimately led to a crackdown in May 2007 by Lebaneses forces and resulted in clashes with Fatah al-Islam militants.[37]

External Influences

The Lebanese army contends that Syria is utilizing Fatah al-Islam as a conduit to create instability in Lebanon but this view is not held by all.[38] The Lebanese authorities accuse Fatah al-Islam of having strong ties not only to Al Qaeda but to Syrian Intelligence; Syria denies such links.[39] They accuse Syria of using Fatah al-Islam to destabilize the country. The accusation is in conjunction with Syria's opposition to the UN Security Council's efforts to set up a tribunal to try suspects linked to the 2005 assassination of Lebanon's former Prime Minister Hariri.[40] <br> 

There have also been accusations that Saudi Arabia[41] and the Hariri government are purveyors of Fatah al-Islam, in an attempt to bolster Sunni extremist groups and sideline Hezbollah. Yet none of these claims have been substantiated.[42]

Geographical Locations

The group operates in northern Lebanon.

Targets & Tactics

In its infancy, Fatah al-Islam was organized into independent cells to allow each cell leader to carry out a provocative attack. Yet this tactic led to major confusion between leadership.[43] For example, Fatah al-Islam's first attack was coordinated by Abu Hureira, who held a strong opposition to the Lebanese Army. On May 20, 2007 Hureira attempted to divert attention away from a street in Tripoli where Fatah al-Islam members were meeting in an apartment, and thus attacked a Lebanese Army post, which triggered the battle in Naher al-Bared. Meanwhile, Shaker Abssi awoke that night to the sound of alarms. Unaware of what Hureira had just done, he was confused and frustrated.[44] Fatah al-Islam's other tactics include bombings, mortar firing, ambushing, and beheading, as seen by Hureira's attack on Lebanese soldiers in 2007. 

Fatah al-Islam targets Lebanese forces, Israel, and anyone whom they believe is working for a Western presence in their land, such as foreign troops and aid workers.

Political Activities

While Fatah al-Islam has not taken a direct role in political activities, they are accused of having scheduled their attacks to intimidate the Lebanese government. For example, the group is accused of timing their attack in Nahr al-Badr to coincide with Lebanon's petition to the UN Security Council to establish an international tribunal to investigate the assassination of Lebanon's Prime Minster, Rafiki Hariri.[45]

Major Attacks

  1. February 13, 2007: Accused of twin bus bombings in the Ain Alaq region, a Christian enclave in Lebanon (3 killed).[46]
  2. May 2007: The group fought the Lebanese army near the northern port city of Tripoli in the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp. The fighting lasted three months until the Lebanese army regained control of the camp (Over 400 killed).[47]
  3. June 11, 2007: The group fired mortar within the Nehar al-Bared refugee camp hitting a Red Cross vehicle (2 killed, 1 wounded).[48]
  4. June 24, 2007: bomb attack targeting UN troops in South Lebanon on road between Khiam and Maryjayoun (6 killed, 2 wounded).[49]
  5. May 13, 2008: The group claimed responsibility for an explosion in Abdeh, Northern Providence, Lebanon (1 killed).[50]
  6. May 25, 2008: Rocket attack on Israeli settlement of Meftahim in Eastern Rafah. The group released an Internet statement claiming responsibility (Unknown).[51]
  7. August 13, 2008: Accused of bombing a bus in Tripoli (18 killed, 40 wounded).[52]
  8. September 27, 2008: Accused by Syrian state of car bombing in Damascus, ten men and women allegedly group militants confessed to act on Syrian state television (17 killed).[53]
  9. September 30, 2008: Accused of bombing a military bus in Tripoli (6 killed, 17 wounded).[54]

Relationships with Other Groups

In 2006, Fatah al-Islam split from Fatah al-Intifida (Fatah Uprising),[55] a pro-Syrian Palestinian faction that had split from Fatah, Yasser Arafat's organization.[56].


The formation of Fatah al-Islam was an affirmation to the fear that Al Qaeda was extending its global influence. The connection stems from the group's first leader and founder, Shaker Al Abssi. Abssi had previously conspired with Abu Masab Al-Zarqawi, former leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq to assassinate an American diplomat in Jordan, Laurence Foley.[57] A statement was released online by Global lslamic Media Front on behalf of Al-Qaeda leadership calling for "every Muslim" to support Fatah al-Islam in confronting Israel as part of their religious obligation.[58] 

Fatah al-Islam is opposed by main Palestinian groups in Lebanon, such as the PLO and Hamas. These organizations view Fatah al-Islam as a menace and disturbance in the refugee camps, and have sided with the Lebanese government in exterminating the group.[59] Furthermore, former leader Al Abssi attacked Hezbollah for relinquishing the fight against Israel and merely focusing on controlling Lebanon.[60] Fatah al-Islam did provide an attractive alternative to Hezbollah for Lebanese Sunnis, who saw Hezbollah's aggressive campaigns as a threat to Sunni control in Lebanon. When stationed in Ain al Hilweh, Fatah al-Islam also threatened to assassinate the head of the Palestinian Armed Struggle Brigadier Mahmoud Issas, known as "Lino" under that accusation that he provided the Lebanese Army with information that helped kill Fatah al-Islam's former leader, Awad.[61]

Community Relationships

Fatah al-Islam was entrenched in Nahr-el Bared, a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon. At its establishment, the group's leader, Al Abssi deliberately worked to recruit key community players to accrue support from refugee population. Influential members of the camps, such as Nasser Ismail, were successfully targeted to join the nascent group.[62] The group's basin of members is international as well, coming from Syria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Lebanon and Palestinian refugees.[63]

Furthermore, Fatah al-Islam was known to post propaganda, recruit, and train youth from the Nahr el-Bared camp. For example, pictures of Saddam Hussein were widely distributed throughout the camp, and when Hussein was hung, the group used the execution to draw compassion and sympathy from the refugee population.[64] Such sentiments have been harbored to recruit members to fight in Iraq. However, the majority of Palestinians in Nahr al-Bared refugee camp are secular and therefore oppose the radical Islamic action and ideology of Fatah al-Islam. Many distanced themselves from the group by moving to other camps such as Baddawi[65] or by revolting against Fatah al-Islam leaders.[66]


References

  1. ^ "Profile: Fatah al-Islam", BBC News, August 15, 2010 from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-10979788
  2. ^ Global Terrorism Database, from http://www.start.umd.edu/gtd/search/IncidentSummary.aspx?gtdid=200805310007
  3. ^ Bloom, Rebecca. "Backgrounder: Fatah al-Islam", GlobalSecurity.org, May 21, 2007 from http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/news/2007/05/mil-070521-cfr02.htm
  4. ^ Saab, Bilal Y. "Fatah al Isam- How an Ambitious Jihadist Project Went Awry", Brookings Institution, October 27, 2010 from  http://www.brookings.edu/articles/2007/1128_terrorism_saab.aspx
  5. ^ Gambill, Gary C. "The Rise of Fatah al-Islam", MidEast Monitor, June/July 2007, from http://www.mideastmonitor.org/issues/0705/0705_5.htm
  6. ^ "Profile: Fatah al-Islam, Armed Sunni Palestinian group is thought to have links to al-Qaeda", Al Jazeera, May 24 2007 from http://english.aljazeera.net/news/middleeast/2007/05/2008525172658912646.html
  7. ^ "Bus Bombing in Lebanon Kills as Many as 18", PBS NewsHour, August 13, 2008, from http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/middle_east/july-dec08/lebanon_08-13.html
  8. ^ Blanford, Nicholas. "Six Dead and Seventeen Injured in Tripoli Car Bombing", The Sunday Times, September 30, 2008 from http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/middle_east/article4846164.ece
  9. ^ Zaatari, Mohammed. "Three Ain al-Hilweh Fatah al-Islam members killed in Iraq", The Daily Star, September 20, 2010 from http://www.dailystar.com.lb/article.asp?edition_id=1&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;categ_id=2&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;article_id=119476#axzz13gt7tDsz
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