Abdullah Azzam Brigades Claim to be Defenders of Sunnis in Lebanon

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 45

Propaganda image from the Abdullah Azzam Brigades.

The Saudi leader of a Lebanese militant group has urged Sunni Muslims to refuse cooperation with institutions of the Lebanese state, which he claims are infiltrated and dominated by the Shiite Hezbollah movement. The criticism of Lebanon’s security structure was contained in a November 24 statement released by Al-Fajr Media Center entitled “A Message from the Mujahid Shaykh, Salih bin Abdullah al-Qar’awi, to the Sunnis in the Levant” (Shamikh1.net/vb, November 24). [1] Al-Qar’awi is the leader of Lebanon’s Abdullah Azzam Brigades, an active militant Islamist group.

The role of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades in the Levant region has grown since 2005, with the group claiming responsibility for several attacks on northern Israel, Elat, and the Jordanian port of Aqaba. This role may not be limited to the Levant, as an unverified statement claiming responsibility for a July attack on a Japanese oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz was issued in the group’s name. It seems that al-Qar’awi, who is on the Saudi list of the Kingdom’s 85 most-wanted individuals, was essential in forming the Abdullah Azzam Brigades after he was designated by the late leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi, to take charge of the triangle between Syria, Lebanon and Iraq in order to facilitate the flow of fighters joining jihad in Iraq (see Militant Leadership Monitor, April 2010; Terrorism Monitor Briefs, April 17).

In his latest statement, al-Qar’awi presents the Brigades as the best force to defend Sunnis in the region, aiming to benefit from the weakness of the Sunnis in Lebanon compared to the increasing influence of Shiite Hezbollah: “I remind our people that we in the Abdullah Azzam Brigades are not aligned with any political camp against another, and we are not concerned with the dirty political game being played in Lebanon. We disavow it, and do not call on the Sunnis to align themselves with this group or that. What we are concerned with is the Sunnis and their religious, political, and economic interests.”

Al-Qar’awi strongly criticized Hezbollah in Lebanon and the “Alawite” regime in Syria for “oppressing, plundering and spoiling the wealth” of Sunnis. He suggests that “there has been no accounting” for the crimes they committed, such as killing Sunni people on May 7, 2008 (when Hezbollah clashed with Sunnis in Beirut), the Alawite massacre of Sunnis in  Hama in Syria in 1982 following a revolt by the Muslim Brotherhood, and other examples. [2]

Al-Qar’awi accused Hezbollah of dominating the political institutions and the army in Lebanon as well as infiltrating the secret services: “Do the Sunni people know who covers up the crimes [against Sunni youth] by the military courts, which are a Shiite tool of subjugation, and who protect the officers of the intelligence services, [who are] in reality subjects of the Shiites, as are those who preside over the harshest forms of torture of your sons that continues to this day?”

To confront this situation, al-Qar’awi urges Sunnis in Lebanon “to boycott the institutions that oppress you and squander your rights, regardless of their affiliation, especially the intelligence services of the army and military. Refuse cooperation with their checkpoints, and call for a rejection of compliance with their demands.”

Al-Qar’awi goes on to ask: “Why does the army intelligence only launch raids against the villages of the Sunni people? Why are there no security checkpoints except in your villages and your neighborhoods? Why do we not see a checkpoint of the army or another of the security institutions in Shiite areas, such as Al-Dahiyah [a Shiite-dominated southern suburb of Beirut], for example?”

Furthermore, al-Qar’awi criticized Sunni figures supporting Hezbollah and named Mustafa Hamdan (a Lebanese general imprisoned from 2005 to 2009 in connection with the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri) as someone used by Hezbollah to infiltrate the Sunni community. He also warned Sunnis against cooperating with Hezbollah: “Hezbollah continues to use military intelligence and its officers to assault the Sunnis. It is no secret to us that it uses those Salafis who falsely claim to be Sunnis to sow chaos and unrest in the Sunni regions [in order to] divide Sunnis.”

Saudi sources have repeatedly claimed that al-Qar’awi is based in Iran rather than Lebanon and received training there, though such claims are typically used to suggest that there is cooperation between Iran and al-Qaeda. [3]

As if to prove these allegations false, al-Qar’awi devoted space in his latest statement to condemn Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to Lebanon last October: “As for the patron of the secretive sects and the general leader of Safavid Iran’s occupation project, the entire world saw their president, who was elected by the force of arms, perform his lowly, oft-repeated, boring play on his visit to South Lebanon, repeating his empty threats against the Jews.”

Al-Qar’awi describes Hezbollah leader Shaykh Hassan Nasrullah as the “Dahiyah Liar,” saying that he served Iranian interests in the region. Al-Qar’awi warned that “Hezbollah has stockpiled weapons to be used in domestic conflicts to slaughter the Sunni people.”

Al-Qar’awi, who uses the Lebanese political terminology as if he is based inside Lebanon or has access to its daily political debates, presents the jihadis of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades as defenders of Sunnis in Lebanon, “who are among the greatest sects of the oppressed and [are] made miserable in this time.”

The leader of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades appears to be seeking to incite a revolt by the Sunnis inside Lebanon with the support of Sunnis in Syria. “[I would remind] our people in imprisoned Syria that their role in the coming days is very important in steering the state of the Sunnis throughout the greater Levant toward either glory and dignity, or more humility and ignominy,” stated al-Qar’awi.

This assertion is similar to the decade-old appeal of well-known jihadi ideologue Abu Mus’ab al-Suri for jihadis to benefit from the dissatisfaction of Syrian Sunnis who suffer from the prejudice of the minority Alawites. Al-Suri called for the Syrian Sunnis to revolt and ally themselves to the global jihad, or what he termed "the Call for a Global Islamic Resistance." Al-Suri’s vision was described in several books on Syria which are widely read by jihadis “to avoid the mistakes of the Syrian jihad experience,” referring to the confrontation between Sunni Islamists and the regime in Syria. [4]


1. All quotes in this article from the statement unless stated otherwise.
2. When the Lebanese government aimed to shut down Hezbollah’s telecommunication network on May 7, 2008 and remove Beirut Airport’s security chief over alleged ties to Hezbollah, Shaykh Hassan Nasrallah considered it a "declaration of war" and his fighters stormed and controlled parts of several West Beirut neighborhoods. Street battles left 11 dead and 30 wounded.
3. https://www.alriyadh.com/2010/11/02/article573520.html.
4 .See for example: Abu Mus’ab al-Suri, Ahlul Sunnah fi al-Sham fi Mwjaht al-Nussyria w al-Salibiya w’al-Yahood (The Sunni People in the Levant Confronting the Nusayris, the. Crusaders and the Jews), al-Gurba’s for Islamic Studies, Kabul, 2000. See also Al-Thorat al-Islamiyah fi Soria, (The Islamic Revolution in Syria), downloaded from https://www.tawhed.