Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Fatah Al islam is the new breed of al qaeda

The Christian Science Monitor, 29 May 2007 Nahr Al Bared refugee camp: As the fight between Islamic militants Fatah Al Islam and Lebanese forces continues - with a ceasefire holding just long enough to allow many civilians to flee - little is known about the group that says it refuses to surrender. Some observers say that the 200-300 fighters holed up inside Nahr Al Bared Palestinian refugee camp, and seemingly preparing for a protracted battle with Lebanon's Army, are adherents of Osama Bin Laden, part of a new generation of extremists tied to Al Qaida. But many of Lebanon's leading anti-Syrian politicians charge that this faction is little more than a tool of Syrian intelligence planted in Lebanon to wreak havoc and further destabilise the Western-backed government in Beirut. "Either way, this group is Al Qaida," says Amal Sa'ad Gorayeb of the Carnegie Endowment's Middle East Center in Beirut. "Whoever supports this group does not detract from the fact that their ideology is Al Qaida."She adds that Fatah Al Islam is an example of the "new breed" of Al Qaida, similar to Al Qaida in Iraq, which was made famous by its first leader, Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, before his death a year ago. "They are much more localised in aims and makeup like Al Qaida in Iraq," she says. Violent politics Syria has denied any involvement with the group, arguing that it faces threats of its own from home-grown jihadi militants. There have been several shootouts and attacks in the past three years, including one on the US Embassy in Damascus, by suspected militants. "Our forces have been after them, even through Interpol," Walid Mua'alem, Syria's foreign minister, said earlier this week. "We reject this organisation. It does not serve the Palestinian cause, and it is not after liberating Palestine." Still, the violent politics and shifting alliances and interests of the region can produce strange bedfellows. Many analysts say there is little doubt that although the Syrian regime is nominally secular, its intelligence services for years have exploited militant Islamic extremists to serve their own purposes. "Syrian intelligence sent hundreds if not thousands of innocent-minded young men to Iraq to struggle against the Americans," says Radwan Al Sayed, a professor of Islamic studies at the Lebanese University and adviser to Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. "They tried to make an Islamist International in Iraq, like the Arabs and Americans did against the Soviets in Afghanistan." Gazi Aridi, the Lebanese information minister, described Fatah Al Islam as a "terrorist phenomenon that is alien to the values and nature of the Palestinian people." The Palestinian residents of Nahr Al Bared say they have little sympathy for the group.

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