What Is Fatah Al-Islam?

Shaker Abssi, a Palestinian wanted by both Syria and Jordan. heads the group. In his early 50s, Abssi is said to be linked to the former leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed in a U.S. air strike in 2006. A Jordanian military court in 2004 sentenced Abssi to death in absentia for his alleged involvement in the murder of American USAID diplomat Laurence Foley in Amman in 2002, along with six others, including Zarqawi. At the time, the charge sheet identified Abssi as a Palestinian nicknamed Abu Yussef, and said he lived in Syria. Around the time of the diplomat's death in Jordan, Abssi was jailed in Syria on charges of planning terrorist attacks inside that country. He was released in the fall, and he reportedly headed to Lebanon, where he set up base in the Nahr el-Bared camp.

Palestinian officials in the Lebanese camps have expressed mounting concern about Fatah al-Islam. According to the PLO, Fatah al-Islam has no link with the Fatah movement. Following his release from jail in Syria, Abssi was said to have lived in Damascus, where Fatah-Intifada, the Palestinian group he used to belong to, is based. That group also denies any link with Fatah al-Islam and calls Abssi a renegade from its movement. Lebanese security officials said Fatah al-Islam members come from Arab countries, and the group also includes local sympathizers who belong to the conservative Salafi branch of Islam, many of whom can be found in Tripoli, a predominantly Sunni city known to have Islamic fundamentalists.

Throughout the 55 years since its creation, Nahr el-Bared has differed from the other Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. Pictures of Saddam Hussein are widely posted throughout the camp, and the way Saddam Hussein was executed stirred a wave of sympathy and compassion among the refugees. This no doubt helped lead the way for the acceptance of a group like Fatah al-Islam into the camp, especially when news spread that some of its members had been with the "jihad" in Iraq. Those returning from Iraq will be far more dangerous than those who returned from Afghanistan, because they acquired their experience from confronting the American Army, which is considered to be the most professional and the best armed in the world.

Most members of Fatah al-Islam are Syrians, some are Saudis, Yemenis and Lebanese. Palestinians maybe come at the end of the list, while Lebanese security sources say Moroccans and Algerians are also members. So, why did they come to this camp? And how did their numbers grow from a handful to a few hundred fighters? These are questions that have no clear answer at the moment but need to be explained promptly before the situation gets out of hand and Lebanon does become a breeding ground for al Qaeda.

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