A Lebanese jihadi forum member posted a letter addressed to Osama Bin Laden entitled “An Open message from Beirut to Osama Bin Laden,” supposedly on behalf of Lebanese Sunnis. The message details the sectarian politics of Lebanon, highlights Hezbollah’s continuing attempts to take over Lebanon and describes the misfortune of the Salafi-Jihadi Fatah al-Islam organization (al-ekhlaas.net, July 21).
The core of Omar al-Bayruti’s message to Bin Laden revolves around Lebanese Shiites and their alleged attempts to undermine Sunni Muslims and take control of Lebanon with the help of Iran and Syria to form a “Shiite Crescent” through the Arab Middle East. Before examining Lebanese political details, al-Bayruti praises al-Qaeda, saying the group became the symbol of defiance for the Sunni Muslim community after 9/11. Al-Bayruti adds that Shiite militias have, for the second time in the last quarter century, invaded and vandalized Beirut, this time with the collaboration of “Sunni agents” in an attempt to hide the “heinous face” of Shiite occupation.
Al-Bayruti asserts that the purpose of the message is to enlighten al-Qaeda, for the organization will have a part in the next phase of confrontation between Sunnis and Shiites in Beirut. According to al-Bayruti, the atmosphere is ripe for al-Qaeda to get involved in Lebanese politics on behalf of the Sunnis; “It’s time to work on inheriting al-Hariri’s [political] stream in Lebanon without a rude entrance or through Iranian and Syrian intelligence networks as did Fatah al-Islam last year in the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Barid. Such a wrong approach inflicted a double loss on the Lebanese Sunnis.” During the confrontation between the Lebanese Army and Fatah al-Islam, Sunnis wondered why al-Qaeda did not overtly support Fatah al-Islam, although al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri explained in one of his speeches that al-Qaeda refrained from endorsing Fatah al-Islam to spare the organization embarrassment – at the time Fatah al-Islam was denying any connection with al-Qaeda:
“The reason for [speaking indirectly] was that the brothers in Fatah al-Islam were being accused by the agents of America of being a branch of al-Qaida, and the brothers were denying that, so I feared that if I supported them openly, I would cause difficulties for them at a time when we were unable to extend to them a helping hand. Now, however, I declare that the brothers in Fatah al-Islam are heroes of Islam, and we know nothing but every good thing about them, and they confronted the Crusader-Zionist coalition in Lebanon in the most honorable way, and what happened to them and the Muslims in Nahar al-Barid is a crime which won’t be forgotten…” (Al-Sahab Media, no. 1429-2008).
Fatah al-Islam, explains al-Bayruti, was used as a scapegoat, with all the dirty work and political assassinations committed by others pinned on the mujahideen of Fatah al-Islam. By assassinating the late prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri, the main foe of Syria and the Shiites, and accusing the mujahideen of responsibility, Hezbollah eliminated the Sunni initiative in Lebanon, according to al-Bayruti. By starting a war with Israel, Hezbollah escaped the guilt of having to use heavy weaponry to subdue internal political rivals, since the war led to Hezbollah’s political rivals temporarily forgetting their conflict with Hezbollah.
Al-Bayruti explains the political situation in Lebanon and Shiite attempts to control the Sunni population by recruiting Sunni agents to facilitate a Syrian and Iranian agenda in Lebanon through groups such as the Islamic Scholar’s Assembly. As a result of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, Iran hosted a conference for Lebanese Muslim scholars from both the Sunni and Shiite sects in Tehran. The outcome of the conference was the establishment of an assembly comprised of Sunni and Shiite scholars with the blessing of Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini.
Al-Bayruti lists a number of Sunni figures working for the Syrian and Iranian cause in Lebanon:
• Shaykh Fathi Yakan: Head of the Lebanese Islamic Action Front and a well known writer on Islamic topics, Shaykh Yakan was once General Secretary of the Lebanese branch of the Muslim Brothers. After being expelled from the movement he became an ally of Hezbollah in its struggle against the Future Movement (Tayyar al-Mustaqbal), a Sunni political movement created by Saad al-Hariri, the younger son of slain ex-Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri.
• Shaykh Abdul Nasir Jabri: A Syrian-born Salafi preacher who trained in Saudi Arabia, Shaykh Jabri runs the Lebanese Islamic Da’wa Academy, funded by Libya. The shaykh recently spoke out against Lebanon’s Sunni Mufti, Shaykh Muhammad Rashid Kabbani; “What Shaykh Kabbani said about the struggle being between Hezbollah and the Sunnis is false. The struggle is political, between a U.S.-Zionist project and forces of resistance extending beyond Lebanon. Some insist on giving this struggle a religious nature to please Washington or some Arab rulers” (Al-Manar TV, May 8).
• Shaykh Maher Hammoud: Shaykh Hammoud, imam of the Sidon al-Quds mosque, developed close ties to Hezbollah after becoming an early advocate of Iranian-style revolutionary political Islam. The shaykh was once a leader of the Islamic Scholar’s Assembly, but broke ranks with the group in the 1980s. Despite warning sectarian violence in Lebanon may lead to an increase in support for al-Qaeda, al-Bayruti suggests the shaykh seeks to play a role in unifying the efforts of Hezbollah and al-Qaeda against Israel (The National, [Abu Dhabi], May 15). The shaykh is also believed to have close ties to Asbat al-Ansar, a militant Sunni Salafist group based in the Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp.
In his discussion of Fatah al-Islam, al-Bayruti insinuates that Hezbollah instigated the Lebanese Army’s attack on the group in the Nahr al-Barid refugee camp. Al-Zawahiri has said previously that last summer’s fighting at the camp was a premeditated crime to eliminate the mujahideen; “Lebanon is not one country, but rather many countries at war with each other. Shiites have their state, Maronites have their state and the U.S. spies pretending to belong to the Sunnis have a state. The army can’t touch any of them. But because the mujahideen in our Arab world don’t have a state to protect them, it was necessary to eliminate any pure Islamic jihadi movement that wouldn’t acquiesce to oppression” (Al-Sahab Media, no. 1429-2008).
Finally, al-Bayruti says the objective of his message is to caution Sunnis about Hezbollah’s ideological gains in Lebanon, urging the mujahideen not to abandon Lebanon and to apply a “practical strategy,” a reference to Fatah al-Islam’s failed approach.
Al-Bayruti’s message received negative comments from Salafi-Jihadi forum chatters in regards to his notion that al-Hariri and his Future Movement represent Sunnis in Lebanon. Others rejected the assumption that Rafiq al-Hariri was assassinated by Hezbollah, though they all agreed to the need for a Salafi-Jihadi amir in Lebanon.
Initiatives to end the intensive ideological conflict between Sunnis and Shiites have failed so far to mend fences between the two sects. The complicated sectarian nature of Lebanese political life, however, means that it will not be easy for al-Qaeda to find enough supporters and adherents of the Salafi-Jihadi ideology to challenge the strength of Hezbollah’s well-organized partisans.