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Middle East
Profile: Fatah al-Islam
Armed Sunni Palestinian group is thought to have links to al-Qaeda.
Last Modified: 24 May 2007 09:24 GMT

Many young Palestinians in Nahr al-Bared camp
are recruited by Fatah al-Islam [AFP]
Fatah al-Islam, the group that has been fighting the national army in Lebanon near the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp close to the northern city of Tripoli, is one of the youngest Palestinian armed groups in the country.

 

Primarily made of Sunni Arabs, the resistance group announced its formation last November, shortly after two of its members were arrested by the Lebanese authorities.

 

Young Palestinians among the camp's 22,000 refugees are thought to be receiving military training from Fatah al-Islam.

 

The Lebanese authorities say the organisation is inspired by al-Qaeda and works for the Syrian intelligence services. Syria denies such a link.

Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera's Middle East analyst, says the group is trans-national and that many of the fighters have fought in Iraq and have trained in camps in places such as Jordan.

However, he says that it is telling that a third of those who have been killed in the fighting at Nahr al-Bared have been Lebanese, who are the biggest component in the group.

"Fatah al-Islam is home for those who do not have a home not only physically but ideologically," Bishara says. "It has found a home paradoxically in a refugee camp."

 

Leader

 

Fatah al-Islam is led by Shaker Abssi, a Palestinian wanted by both Syria and Jordan.

 

He is suspected of having links to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the late Jordanian leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq.

 

Fatah al-Islam has no link with the Fatah movement. There is absolutely no connection and they have no right to use the name Fatah

Abssi was jailed for three years by Syria in 2003. Damascus has issued a new arrest warrant against him.

 
Although Syria denies backing groups such as fatah al-Islam Bishara says Damascus has a history of backing similar jihadist Sunni groups in Iraq.

In 2004, a Jordanian military court sentenced Abssi to death in absentia for his alleged involvement in the murder of Laurence Foley, an American diplomat, in Amman in 2002.

 

At the time, the charge sheet identified Abssi as a Palestinian nicknamed Abu Yussef, saying he lived in Syria.

Bishara says it is likely that Fatah al-Islam has an ideological affiliation with al-Qaeda in that it is "polycentric" but is "autonomous within their own territories and have their own leadership."

Bombing accusation

 

Fatah al-Islam has been accused of involvement in the bombing of a bus in a Christian area northeast of Beirut in February, in which three people were killed. It denies carrying out the bombing.

 

The organisation has accused the Lebanese government of threatening the country's Palestinian refugee camps, which hold more than 200,000 people.

 

Lebanon's armed forces have long agreed not to enter the refugee camps.

 

However, this agreement is at odds with a UN Security Council resolution passed in October 2004, which calls implicitly for action to be taken against armed Palestinian groups.

 

Resolution 1559 seeks the "disbanding and disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias", referring not only to the Shia movement Hezbollah, but also to groups such as Fatah al-Islam inside the refugee camps.

 

Assymetrical

 

A spokesman for the mainstream Fatah organisation of Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, robustly denies any link with Fatah al-Islam.

 

Bishara says that fatah al-Islam is paradoxical.

"It is not a resistance group and it is not an insurgency, it is not attempting to overthrow the Lebanese government, and it is certainly not close to being a guerrilla group that is expaniding its territory," he says.

"It is what we call an assymetrical group, it is like the groups found in the favelas in Brazil, on the fringes of the Colombian capital, in the outskirts of Casablanca, in Afghanistan, in Somalia… in all the grey areas of these countries where law and order is not spread."

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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