Counter-Terrorism: Biting The Hand That Shelters You


October 12,2008:  Al Qaeda is operating in a lot of countries, with some interesting, unexpected, and largely unreported, results. The best example of this is what is going on in Lebanon and Syria. Both countries have long been refuges for Sunni Islamic terrorists. That has included al Qaeda and affiliated groups. Syria has long been a big fan of this hospitable attitude towards terrorists. Like many Arab dictatorships (which is what most Arab nations are, the others being monarchies), Syria hosted terrorists for two reasons. Most importantly, this provided the dictator with considerable immunity to terrorist attacks. Second, this close relationship with terrorists made it easy to hire the terrorists for some freelance murder. Dictators have a lot of enemies, and having some grateful (for the sanctuary) terrorists on call, is a good way to deal with people out to do you harm.

This brings us to Shaker al Absi, a Palestinian who grew up in Libya, joined the Libyan Air Force as a fighter pilot, and went off to Afghanistan in the 1980s to fight the Russians. Absi got religion and joined al Qaeda. Along the way, that Shaker al Absi became a personal friend of Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the late Al Qaeda in Iraq emir. Together they had trained in Afghanistan where they formed a group of Islamic terrorists from Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria called Jund ash Sham. Many members of the group were also past members of another Lebanese/ Palestinian terrorist group called Asbat al Ansar. The goal of all of these groups was to form an Islamic caliphate in the Levant (eastern Mediterranean) region. Combined with the other al Qaeda-affiliated organizations, the Levant fits in nicely between the planned Mesopotamian, Arabian Peninsula, and North African caliphates. The Levant is a key piece to the global caliphate plan.

In 2002, Absi was hiding out in Syria and planning to bite the hand that sheltered him. The Syrians arrested Absi before he could carry out any attacks, but turned him loose three years later. Absi went west, to Lebanon, rather than east, to Iraq. Absi apparently saw that al Qaeda was playing a losing hand in Iraq, and organized Fatah al Islam ("The Victory of Islam") in Lebanon. There, he had plenty of Shia and Christians to terrorize. But last year, the Lebanese decided Absi and Fatah al Islam had to go.

After spending the Summer of 2007 fighting the surrounded (in a Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon) Fatah al Islam gunmen, the Lebanese military announced it had cleared the Nahr al Bared refugee camp of the terrorists. In the four month long fight, the top leadership of the group was killed except for the emir (leader).

What made the career of Fatah al Islam so notable was its use of the internet as a propaganda tool to create a following. Online forums were used as a tool for conveying the group's message, attracting recruits and building links with other organizations. In the past, Islamists used social networks to do the same - they knew people who knew people. The use of the internet allows these groups to interact with a global audience. That means the terrorists can build a larger support base for their activity. The good news is that they are easily penetrated and accessible to private intelligence organizations.

Fatah al Islam has likely been eliminated as a viable organization. The few remaining survivors will continue their terrorist activities with groups such as Asbat al Ansar or Jama'at Tawhid wa Jihad fil Bilad ash-Sham (The Monotheism and Struggle Group in the Land of the Levant). Fatah al Islam, however, has set a precedent for using the internet as an important terrorism tool (and one which has been fully exploited).

Shaker al Absi had escaped to Syria, where the police went looking for him. Last August, Syrian police caught up with Absi, and arrested him. It's not likely Absi will be set free this time. It's believed that Absi was behind some of the recent terrorism in Syria. That has made the Syrians a little nervous about the many Islamic terrorist groups it continues to shelter. That's a happy ending of sorts.



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