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

ASEAN Ministers Set to Push for South China Sea Agreements

According to documents obtained by VOA Khmer, ministers will stand up for 'freedom of navigation, unimpeded lawful maritime commerce, trade and over flight' More

Puerto Rico Defaults on $58M Debt Payment

Payment was due Saturday, default is first in country's 117 years as a United States possession More

Turkish Public Fears Jihadists More Than Kurds

Turkey facing twin threats of terrorism by Islamic State and PKK Kurdish separatists, says President Erdogan’s ruling AK Party 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.
Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Communityi
X
Sharon Behn
August 03, 2015 2:23 PM
A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs