Thursday, January 17, 2008

Al Qaeda in Lebanon
The Iraq War Spreads
Nir Rosen
In the Boston Review

At the Shuhada, or martyrs’ mosque, a dozen men stood in paramilitary uniforms with walkie talkies, M4 Carbines, AK-47s, scopes, pistols, combat boots, long beards, and sunglasses. Unlike the hundreds of familiar, unkempt militiamen slinging old weapons in the camp, these men were professionals. They joined about two hundred others on the mosque’s second floor for a special prayer. They were burying Daghagh Rifai, a comrade in Usbat al Ansar, shot that morning by members of their rival faction, Fatah, after a string of attacks and retaliations. The men lined up with the others in orderly rows, placing their weapons on the floor between their legs. Some wore the salwar kameez typical in Pakistan and Afghanistan, a jihadist fashion statement. Following the prayer they gathered to gaze briefly at the corpse, wrapped in the green flag of Islam, not the Palestinian flag....

Ayn al Hilweh, the largest refugee camp in Lebanon, houses up to 75,000 people in 1.5 square kilometers of squalor. The camp is dominated by two main factions, the older, nationalist, and more secular Fatah, and Usbat al Ansar, which emerged in the 1990s. A balance of power keeps large-scale fighting from breaking out. But in the past decade the camps have seen a slow transformation: the waning of Yasser Arafat–style Palestinian nationalism represented by Fatah and other leftist nationalist groups such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the rise of Islamist groups like Usbat al Ansar, mobilized around religious, not national, identity, influenced by global jihad, and, some believe, with direct links to al Qaeda....

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