“A New Face of Jihad Vows Attacks on U.S,” by Souad Mekhennet and Michael Moss for the New York Times:
TRIPOLI, Lebanon “” Deep in a violent and lawless slum just north of this coastal city, 12 men whose faces were shrouded by scarves drilled with Kalashnikovs.
In unison, they lunged in one direction, turned and lunged in another. “Allah-u akbar,” the men shouted in praise to God as they fired their machine guns into a wall.
The men belong to a new militant Islamic organization called Fatah al Islam, whose leader, a fugitive Palestinian named Shakir al-Abssi, has set up operations in a refugee camp here where he trains fighters and spreads the ideology of Al Qaeda.
He has solid terrorist credentials. A former associate of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda of Mesopotamia who was killed last summer, Mr. Abssi was sentenced to death in absentia along with Mr. Zarqawi in the 2002 assassination of an American diplomat in Jordan, Laurence Foley. Just four months after arriving here from Syria, Mr. Abssi has a militia that intelligence officials estimate at 150 men and an arsenal of explosives, rockets and even an antiaircraft gun.
During a recent interview with The New York Times, Mr. Abssi displayed his makeshift training facility and his strident message that America needed to be punished for its presence in the Islamic world. “The only way to achieve our rights is by force,” he
said. “This is the way America deals with us. So when the Americans feel that their lives and their economy are threatened, they will know that they should leave.”
Mr. Abssi’s organization is the image of what intelligence officials have warned is the re-emergence of Al Qaeda. Shattered after 2001, the organization founded by Osama bin Laden is now reforming as an alliance of small groups around the world that share a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam but have developed their own independent terror capabilities, these officials have said. If Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who has acknowledged directing the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and a string of other terror plots, represents the
previous generation of Qaeda leaders, Mr. Abssi and others like him represent the new.
American and Middle Eastern intelligence officials say he is viewed as a dangerous militant who can assemble small teams of operatives with acute military skill.
“Guys like Abssi have the capability on the ground that Al Qaeda has lost and is looking to tap into,” said an American intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity. Mr. Abssi has shown himself to be a canny operator. Despite being on terrorism watch lists around the world, he has set himself up in a Palestinian refugee camp where, because of Lebanese politics, he is largely shielded from the government. The camp also gives him ready access to a pool of recruits, young Palestinians whose militant vision has evolved from the struggle against Israel to a larger Islamic cause.
Intelligence officials here say that he has also exploited another source of manpower: they estimate he has 50 militants from Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries fresh from fighting with the insurgency in Iraq.
The officials say they fear that he is seeking to establish himself as a terror leader on the order of Mr. Zarqawi. “He is trying to fill a void and do so in a high-profile manner that will attract the attention of supporters,” the American intelligence official said.
Mr. Abssi has recently taken on a communications adviser, Abu al-Hassan, 24, a journalism student who dropped out of college to join Fatah al Islam. His current project: a newsmagazine aimed at attracting recruits.
A strikingly biased statement occurs below, though additional oddities leave open the possibility of sloppiness in addition to a lack of objectivity:
The arc of Mr. Abssi’s life shows the allure of Al Qaeda for Arab militants. Born in Palestine, from which he and family were evicted by the Israelis, Mr. Abssi, 51, said he stopped studying medicine to fly planes for Yasir Arafat. He then staged attacks on Israel from his own base in Syria. After he was imprisoned in Syria for three years on terrorism charges, he said he broadened his targets to include Americans in Jordan.
In a 90-minute interview, his first with Western reporters, Mr. Abssi said he shared Al Qaeda’s fundamentalist interpretation and endorsed the creation of a global Islamic nation. He said killing American soldiers in Iraq was no longer enough to convince the American public that its government should abandon what many Muslims view as a war against Islam.
“We have every legitimate right to do such acts, for isn’t it America that comes to our region and kills innocents and children?” Mr. Abssi said. “It is our right to hit them in their homes the same as they hit us in our homes.
“We are not afraid of being named terrorists,” he added. “But I want to ask, is someone who detonates one kilogram a terrorist while someone who detonates tons in Arab and Islamic cities not a terrorist?”
Never mind that U.S. action in the region is in response to prior violent acts of jihad, and the U.S. military does not target civilians. But wait, jihadists didn’t commit acts like 9/11, Jews did, we’re told.
When asked, Mr. Abssi refused to say what his targets might be.
Inside the Palestinian camp, Mr. Abssi seems to be building his operation with little interference.
Maj. Gen. Achraf Rifi, general director of Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces, says the government does not have authority to enter a Palestinian camp “” even though Mr. Abssi is now wanted in Lebanon, Jordan and Syria on terrorism charges.
To enter the camps, he said, “We would need an agreement from other Arab countries.” He said that instead the government was tightening its cordon around the camp to make it harder for Mr. Abssi or his men to slip in and out.
Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon have long been fertile ground for militancy, particularly focused on the fight against Israel. But militants in those camps now have a broader vision. In Ain el Hilwe camp, an hour’s drive south of Beirut, another radical Sunni group, Asbat al Ansar, has been sending fighters to Iraq since the start of the war, its leaders acknowledged in interviews.
Mr. Abssi said he derived much of his spiritual guidance from Abu Abdullah Muhammad al-Bukhari, a ninth-century Islamic scholar. A recent study by the Defense Department’s Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, N.Y., listed Mr. Bukhari among
the 20 Islamic scholars who had greater influence today among militant Arabs than Mr. bin Laden.
Well, at least they didn’t list him as Mr. Sahih Bukhari, “sahih” being the adjective that describes Bukhari’s hadith as sound, or reliable.
“Osama bin Laden does make the fatwas,” Mr. Abssi said, using the Arabic word for Islamic legal pronouncements. “Should his fatwas follow the Sunnah,” or Islamic law, he said, “we will carry them out.”
Sharia = Islamic law. Sunnah = the example of Muhammad in the ahadith and Sira.
In the interview with The Times, Mr. Abssi said he had been largely warmly received in the Palestinian camp, and that he was optimistic about his cause. “One of the reasons for choosing this camp is our belief that the people here are close to God as they feel the same suffering as our brothers in Palestine,” he said.
“Today”s youth, when they see what is happening in Palestine and Iraq, it enthuses them to join the way of the right and jihad,” he said. “These people have now started to adopt the right path.”