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 One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years 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.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs