News / Middle East

Christians, Other Religious Groups in Lebanon Fear ISIL Attacks

Lebanon's Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk speaks during an interview with Reuters at his office in Beirut, July 9, 2014.
Lebanon's Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk speaks during an interview with Reuters at his office in Beirut, July 9, 2014.

Lebanese security agencies controlled by rival religious sects are coordinating more closely than at any time since the end of the country’s long-running civil war as concerns of further jihadist bomb attacks mount.

In a Thursday interview with Reuters, Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk said the “danger of bombings is still there” despite recent security successes in identifying jihadists planning attacks and the recent arrests of seven of them.

The interior minister said events in Iraq, where jihadists have been spearheading a widespread Sunni Muslim insurgency, have exacerbated the threat of sectarian conflict in Lebanon and emboldened like-minded militants.

“We must admit that what has happened in Iraq has caused great excitement among these groups that believe they can benefit from the Iraqi experience,” Machnouk said. “They think they can carry out similar operations in Lebanon.”

The interior minister confirmed that the Islamic State of Syria and Levant (ISIL), an al-Qaida splinter group fighting in Iraq and Syria, now has a presence in Lebanon.

Fears have mounted that the radical ISIL militants, who last month declared a caliphate straddling Syria and Iraq, may seek to turn Lebanon into a third front in a bid to put pressure on Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shi'ite movement, to withdraw fighters from Syria. Hezbollah forces have been a key component in Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's gains against the insurgency.

ISIL is just one of several militant Sunni groups operating in Lebanon. Al-Qaida affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra is also present, say security officials. Sunni militants have mounted more than a dozen bomb attacks in Lebanon in the past year, mainly targeting Hezbollah strongholds. Their attacks, which tapered off in the winter, are spiking again.

Local attacks

In recent weeks Lebanon witnessed a spate of suicide bombings, including one at a police checkpoint on the Beirut-Damascus highway in which a policeman was killed and 33 people wounded. The target appears to have been Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, head of Lebanon's general security agency, whose convoy was roughly 200 meters from the blast.

A separate suicide bombing struck a busy, predominantly Shi'ite suburb, and on 26 June a suicide bomber blew himself up in a four-star Beirut hotel as security personnel prepared to storm his room.

According to intelligence documents leaked to Ad-Diyar, jihadists have been attempting to recruit members from Lebanon's Palestinian refugee camps and establish a base at the Ain al-Hilweh camp in Sidon, in the country's south.

VOA reported last week that Lebanon’s security chiefs were becoming anxious about the heightened level of jihadist activity in the dozen camps housing 400,000 Palestinians. The camps were set up for Palestinian refugees fleeing the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

Although the camps are self-policing, Palestinian officials who declined to be named for this article say Lebanese security forces have secretly deployed elite units within the camps. The elite units, the Palestinian officials say, are operating with the endorsement of Palestinian camp chiefs.

One of the reasons for the Lebanese army’s fears over Ain Helweh and the other Palestinian camps is that they have played prominent roles in the history of violence in Lebanon, having been used in the past by extremist groups. In 2007 the camp at Nahr al-Bared was taken over by the Islamist Fatah al-Islam, triggering a three-month-long siege by the Lebanese army in the most severe internal fighting in Lebanon since the country’s 1975–1990 civil war.

Lebanon’s Christian leaders are also increasingly worried that jihadists will expand their targets to include Maronite Christians in order to sow more sectarian turmoil. A recent series of threats against Christians issued by an obscure Sunni militant group known as the Free Sunnis of Baalbek Brigades, in the Beqaa Valley, has added to Christian apprehension.

In one Tweet, the self-styled Baalbek Brigades said “a special group from the free mujahedeen was assigned to free the Islamic emirate of the Beqaa in specific and Lebanon in general from the churches of the polytheists.”

“This group will work on targeting the crusaders... in order to stop the bells of the polytheists’ churches from ringing,” said another Tweet.

Lebanese security chiefs have sought to allay Christian fears, arguing the Free Sunnis of Baalbek Brigades is a fake group. But Wadi Al-Khazen, head of Lebanon’s Central Council of Maronite Societies, remains concerned about sectarian violence directed against Christians and has called on Arab governments for protection.

And the Melkite Catholic Archbishop of Zahleh and Ferzul, Issam John Darwish, said in a statement the responsibility for the protection of Christians in Lebanon “falls on Muslims in general and Sunnis in particular.”

The Lebanese state news agency reported Monday that 21 jihadists have been charged in absentia with planning attacks.

The high level of coordination between Lebanon’s security agencies stands in contrast to the political deadlock over selecting a new president for the country. After a new government was formed this winter, thanks to behind-the-scenes talks between major regional players Saudi Arabia and Iran, agreement over picking a head of state to succeed retired Gen. Michel Sleiman, whose term ended in May, has proven elusive.

Under Lebanon’s power-sharing order the head of state has to be a Christian.

 

You May Like

Video VOA EXCLUSIVE: Iraq President Vows to Fight IS 'Until They Are Killed or We Die'

In wide-ranging interview with VOA Kurdish service reporter, Fuad Masum describes conflict as new type of fight that will take time to win More

Russian Anti-Corruption Campaigner Slams Putin’s Crackdown on Dissent

In interview with VOA Alexei Navalny says he believes new law against 'undesirable NGOs' part of move to keep Russian president in power More

Video On The Scene: In Ethiopia, 'Are You a Journalist?' Is a Loaded Question

VOA's Anita Powell describes the difficulties faced by reporters in fully conveying the story in a country where people are reticent to share their true opinions More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: meanbill from: USA
July 13, 2014 12:04 PM
MY OPINION? ... the world should ask the US, EU, and NATO countries, why they continue to supply all the weapons to the Jihadists to commit all these atrocities on innocents?
In Response

by: ali baba from: new york
July 13, 2014 7:35 PM
Xaaji. Gringo has not made ISIL. Islam made them. Islam made Osama bin laden. Islam Made shaab in Somalia . Ask who give them money and ideology. Who make ISIL act such as barbaric by killing people or cut a person into pieces. it happen in Somali . it is barbaric behavior .they got it form barbaric ideology
In Response

by: Xaaji Dhagax from: Somalia
July 13, 2014 3:02 PM
Gringos should not be worried about Arab Muslims killing Arab Muslims or Arab Christians slaughtering Arab Muslims or vice verse.
Supplying sophisticated weapons to so called Jihadists by the West is that US wants the Middle East to become a permanent never-ending world's super killing field. The really Western conspiracy here is .....well, you figure out, you know what I'm saying, Gringo,?

by: meanbill from: USA
July 13, 2014 12:00 PM
IF ONLY? ... The Russians warned the US, EU, and NATO countries, (that they were inflaming sectarian violence), by supplying all those weapons to the Sunni Muslims armed and trained in Jordan and Turkey, to wage war on the Shia Muslim led Syrian government, and now in Iraq, and now spreading to the surrounding countries.... The Russians warned them, but like always the US, EU, and NATO countries didn't listen, and the whole Islamic world, is now suffering from it.....

by: Ali Baba from: new york
July 13, 2014 11:20 AM
ISIL in Syria, Iraq and now in Lebanon. it is a virus that will spread very fast

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardshipi
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
May 28, 2015 6:48 PM
Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Floodwaters Recede in Houston, but Rain Continues

Many parts of Texas are recovering from one of the worst natural disasters to hit the southwestern state. Heavy rains on Monday and early Tuesday caused rivers to swell in eastern and central Texas, washing away homes and killing at least 13 people. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, floodwaters are receding slowly in the country's fourth-largest city, and there likely is to be more rain in the coming days.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.

VOA Blogs