April 9, 2008 Special Dispatch No. 1880

Lebanon Publishes New Evidence of Ties Between Syria and Fath Al-Islam

April 9, 2008
Lebanon, Syria | Special Dispatch No. 1880

On February 18, 2008, Lebanese prosecutor-general Judge Sa'id Mirza submitted a report on his two-year investigation of the February 2007 terrorist attack in 'Ain 'Alaq, a Christian town in northern Lebanon. [1] The findings of the investigation indicate that Fath Al-Islam was behind the attack, but the report also implies a possible connection between Fath Al-Islam and the Syrian regime. [2]

Lebanese Prosecutor General: Fath Al-Islam Was Founded to Oppose the Lebanese Government, March 14 Forces

The report submitted by Judge Sa'id Mirza stated that the 'Ain 'Alaq attack was perpetrated by Fath Al-Islam, on orders from the organization's leader, Shaker Al-'Absi. Before arriving in Lebanon, 'Al-'Absi had stayed in Syria while on the run from the Jordanian authorities, and in 2004 he was arrested by the Syrian authorities and sentenced to three years' imprisonment. However, he was released from prison only one year later, after being pardoned by Syrian President Bashar Assad. He entered Lebanon illegally via the Syrian border, and then had his activists smuggled from Syria into Lebanon, and into the Nahr Al-Bared refugee camp.

The report added that one of Al-'Absi's goals in founding Fath Al-Islam was to fight the current Lebanese government and the majority in the Lebanese parliament, since he believed them to be carrying out the U.S.'s plans in Lebanon. One of the perpetrators of the 'Ain 'Alaq attack even revealed that he had been instructed to carry out the operation prior to February 14, 2007 (the anniversary of the assassination of former Lebanese prim minister Rafiq Al-Hariri), as a political message to the March 14 Forces.

According to the report, the organization has two additional goals: to stir up trouble in Lebanon by perpetrating terrorism and by instigating strife among ethnic and religious groups; and to fight UNIFIL in South Lebanon, which Fath Al-Islam considers to be invaders occupying Muslim land.

The investigation further revealed that Fath Al-Islam consists of two branches: one, headed by the Syrian Majd Al-Din 'Abd Al-Hai 'Aboud, a.k.a. Abu Yazan, was responsible for planning and carrying out terrorist operations, and another whose members were totally unaware of the terrorist activities carried out by the first. Detainees from the latter branch claimed that they had been ignorant of the organizations' real goals. In fact, some reported that they had been deliberately misled, and had been told that they were joining an organization dedicated to aiding Sunni Muslims, to fighting the U.S. forces in Iraq, or even to destabilizing the Syrian regime. [3]

On March 11, 2008, Lebanon's top investigating military magistrate Rashid Muzhir issued an indictment against Al-'Absi and other Fath Al-Islam activists, based on the findings of the prosecutor general's investigation. He sought the death penalty for Al-'Absi and for the perpetrators of the 'Ain 'Alaq attack. [4]

Al-Mustaqbal: The Syrian Regime Concealed Assad's Pardon of Al-'Absi

After the indictment of Al-'Absi and other Fath Al-Islam activists, an editorial in the Lebanese daily Al-Mustaqbal presented details from the Mirza report and from the indictment itself pointing to ties between Syria and Fath Al-Islam:

"...The indictment issued [on March 11, 2008]... confirms that Shaker Al-'Absi was arrested [in Syria] for planning an operation in the Golan against the Israeli enemy. [The indictment also states] that he served only one year of his three-year [sentence], and was then pardoned by the Syrian president and released... These [findings] by the Lebanese judiciary, which are backed by proof and evidence, expose [the truth about] the Syrian regime, which has been trying to deny any connection to Shaker Al-'Absi ever since the Lebanese authorities announced that they suspected Fath Al-Islam of being behind the 'Ain 'Alaq attacks.

"Let us recall the March 14, 2008 statement by Syrian Interior Minister [General] Bassam 'Abd Al-Majid [regarding Shaker Al-'Absi]. Al-Majid did not mention the presidential pardon [that had been granted to Al-'Absi] or the operation he had planned in the Golan... [Instead], he stated [as following]: 'Fath Al-Islam is one of the branches of Al-Qaeda that plan terrorist attacks in Syria. [After] it was exposed in 2002, several of its members were arrested, including its leader, Shaker Al-Absi, a Jordanian of Palestinian origin, born in Jericho in 1955. Under interrogation, the detainees revealed that Al-'Absi and his associates had been in contact with the commander of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Mus'ab Al-Zarqawi, and had coordinated [their activities] with him, with the intention of perpetrating terrorist operations.

"[Al-Majid added:] 'Al-'Absi and his associates were brought before the Syrian court on charges of membership in Al-Qaeda, and on December 7, 2003, Al-'Absi was sentenced to three years' imprisonment with hard labor, which he served [in full]. After his release, it was reported, based on interrogations of Al-Qaeda detainees, that he had returned to terrorist activities and was training Al-Qaeda [militants]. On January 28, 2007, Warrant no. 3308 was issued for his arrest... but he is still at large, and the Syrian authorities are searching for him.'

"That same day, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Muallem likewise issued a statement regarding [Al-'Absi]. [However,] neither he nor 'Abd Al-Majid explained why Al-'Absi was released even though he was wanted by Jordan, [Syria's] sister-state, as the Syrian regime has called it. He is wanted [in Jordan] for the murder of Lawrence Foley, an executive officer of USAid, who was killed in Amman in 2002...

"Now that it has been proven that Al-'Absi's [organization] was involved in the murder of innocent Lebanese, we must ask: Why did the Syrian regime present Lebanon, as well as the Arab and the international community, with false information regarding Shaker Al-'Absi? The answer is clear and known [to all]: Al-'Absi is affiliated with Syrian military intelligence.

"Several Lebanese ministers have confirmed that, [according to] Lebanese military intelligence chief Brig.-Gen. George Khouri... Fath Al-Islam consists of two groups: one connected to Al-Qaeda and another connected to Syrian military intelligence. In fact, anyone who examines the indictment and the [prosecutor-general's] report can see the difference between these two groups. One was headed by a Saudi and was instructed to recruit Saudi [activists], while the other was charged with carrying out terrorist operations. [The latter] was headed by the Syrian [called] Abu Yazan, [and] its members were mostly Syrian nationals..."


Fath Al-Islam, the Syrian Regime and the Lebanese Opposition Share the Same Goals

"The most striking fact [about Fath Al-Islam] is that its two branches are totally separate, so that the one does not know about the activities of the other. That is, the Gulf branch... [whose members] were told that that the aim [of the organization] was to bring about a change of regime in Syria, knew nothing of the Syrian branch, whose task was to perpetrate terrorism in Lebanon with the sole aim of destabilizing [the country]...

"This confirmed information [reflects] the obvious common goals [shared by] the Syrian regime, the March 8 Forces [i.e. the Syrian opposition headed by Hizbullah], [5] and Fath Al-Islam. According to the indictment, which is based on a two-year investigation, the goals of Fath Al-Islam are 'to stir trouble in Lebanon by [sowing] destruction, carrying out bombings and creating a climate of strife among [various] ethnic and religious groups; to fight the current Lebanese government and the majority in the Lebanese parliament, who, [according to Fath Al-Islam], are implementing the U.S. plan in Lebanon; and to fight UNIFIL in South Lebanon, which [Fath Al-Islam regards as invaders] occupying Muslim land.' [Now that we know the organization's goals], is there any difficulty in identifying the forces that share the[se goals] with Fath Al-Islam - especially in light of the verbal [abuse] that the Syrians and their allies in Lebanon, including Wiam Wahhab, Nasser Qandil, Fathi Yakan and Tallal Arslan, [have heaped upon the March 14 Forces], and considering Hizbullah's repeated attacks on the current government and on the March 14 Forces, which currently constitute the majority in the [Lebanese] parliament...?

"Who can put all these [facts] into simple language for the Lebanese people, so that they understand that the Free Patriotic Movement [headed by Michel 'Aoun] and the rest of the March 8 Forces are engaged in a large-scale scam of deception aimed at defending those who have blood on their hands? [It is] the blood of the people of the Maten region in northern Lebanon, and of Lebanon's army commanders and security apparatus personnel..." [6]


[1] On February 14, 2007, the second anniversary of the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Al-Hariri, two buses were attacked in 'Ain 'Alaq, killing three Lebanese and wounding 23. A month later, on March 14, 2007, the Lebanese security apparatuses announced that they had apprehended four Syrians belonging to Fath Al-Islam who acknowledged carrying out the attack. The Lebanese daily Al-Mustaqbal reported that under interrogation the suspects had confessed to a connection to the Syrian intelligence agency, and said that they had directly received orders and funds from it, and had even been trained by it. Al-Mustaqbal, Lebanon, March 14, 2007.

[2] For more information on Fath Al-Islam and its possible ties with Syria, see Memri Inquiry & Analysis No. 362, "Who Is Behind Fath Al-Islam?" June 8, 2007, Who Is Behind Fath Al-Islam? ; MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 365, "Syrian Efforts to Deny Fath Al-Islam Affiliation With Syrian Intelligence," June 20, 2007, Syrian Efforts to Deny Fath Al-Islam Affiliation With Syrian Intelligence ; MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 1747, "In Letter to U.N. Secretary-General, Lebanese Prime Minister Accuses Syria of Being Behind Fath Al-Islam," October 24, 2007, In Letter to U.N. Secretary-General, Lebanese Prime Minister Accuses Syria of Being Behind Fath Al-Islam.

[3] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), February 19, 2008.

[4] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), March 12, 2007.

[5] The name "March 8 Forces" refers to a mass rally held by the Hizbullah-led Lebanese opposition on March 8, 2005, three weeks after Rafiq Al-Hariri's assassination. The rally, attended by almost one million people, was a show of support for Syria.

[6] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), March 13, 2007.

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