Sunni/Shi’ite Jihad Update from Lebanon. “Radical Group Pulls In Sunnis As Lebanon’s Muslims Polarize,” by Ellen Knickmeyer for the Washington Post:
TRIPOLI, Lebanon — Surrounded in the first hours of their battle with Lebanese forces in this northern Lebanese city, fighters of the Fatah al-Islam group shouted desperately from the windows of their hideouts. “God is great!” one resident, housewife Aziza Ahmed, recalled the fighters yelling. “Come be holy warriors with us!”
Mohammed al-Jasm, a 28-year-old unemployed Lebanese Sunni, received his summons by cellphone on May 20, his family believes.
Chunky and unmarried, twice-failed in shopkeeping ventures and increasingly prone to spending his idle hours with fundamentalist friends, Jasm took his gun and rallied to the Sunni group, his brothers said.
Ah. The Washington Post has found the key. Chunky and unmarried? Failed in business? You’re on your way to becoming a jihad terrorist.
He soon made a forlorn cellphone call to his mother: I’m wounded, he told her.
Within hours, Jasm was dead, his body gouged by bullets, his jowly, bearded face pressed into the filthy street. A sister keeps an image of his body captured on a cellphone camera.
To his family, Jasm and a handful of other young Lebanese Sunnis who responded to Fatah al-Islam’s appeals died hapless recruits in a conflict that leaders on all sides are promoting between the Muslim world’s Sunni majority and Shiite minority.
In Lebanon, the polarization is felt ever more keenly. A governing bloc led by the Sunni-dominated Future Movement of parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri and Prime Minister Fouad Siniora is locked in an eight-month-old standoff with the Shiite movement Hezbollah, led by Hasan Nasrallah and backed by Iran and Syria. Both sides are arming.
In January, Siniora’s administration received pledges of $7.6 billion from the United States, Europe and Persian Gulf states, including millions of dollars in military aid. The Bush administration is trying to strengthen Sunni countries it considers moderate, among them Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, to counter Shiite entities such as Iran, Syria and Hezbollah.
In Tripoli, residents say they have watched the expansion of groups dedicated to the more strident forms of Sunnism, especially since Hezbollah’s war with Israel last year. This growth includes politicking by leaders of the Salafi sect, a fundamentalist stream of Sunni Islam that traditionally rejects politics as an impious Western concept.
At the same time, prominent figures in the Salafi community here have served as intermediaries between their flock and Hariri. In the mosques, “our preachers call upon the people to become part of the political process,” said Daii al-Islam al-Shahal, a member of a prominent Salafi family in Tripoli and founder of a group he describes as dedicated to charity, education and preaching.
“There’s a relationship between ourselves and Sheik Saad when it’s needed,” Shahal said. “The biggest Sunni political power is Hariri. The biggest Sunni religious power are the Salafis. So it’s natural.”
Hariri denies that promoting Sunni political power trickles down to support for armed groups. “We sponsor culture and education, not terrorism,” he said in an interview in Beirut. “I am the son of Rafiq al-Hariri — we never had blood on our hands and we never will.”
“I am concerned about Iranian intervention in the affairs of other countries,” Hariri added. “But that doesn’t mean that we will sponsor Sunni radicalism. Radicalism is not the answer.”
The U.S.-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq have fed Sunni militancy, and U.S. and European leaders are inciting it anew in the building confrontation with Iran and Hezbollah, said Alistair Crooke, former Middle East adviser under European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana.
For more on Alistair Crooke see here.
With U.S. and European governments encouraging the alignment of Sunnis against Shiites, “it should not be surprising that in November a group of Salafis could think it would be important to come to Lebanon to defend their Sunni people against a growing threat,” Crooke said. Fatah al-Islam was founded by Shaker al-Abssi, a Jordanian of Palestinian origin, who arrived in northern Lebanon late last year after serving a prison sentence in Syria.
Abssi reportedly embraces the ideology of Osama bin Laden and seeks to promote Islamic fundamentalism among Palestinians in Lebanon before eventually attacking Israel.
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