Arabic: فتح الإسلام
|Participant in the 2007 Lebanon conflict and the Syrian Civil War|
|Leaders||Shaker al-Abssi †
Abu Mohamad Awad †
Abu Hussam al Shami †
|Headquarters||Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian Refugee Camp
Nahr al-Bared Palestinian Refugee Camp (former)
|Area of operations||Lebanon
|Originated as||Fatah al-Intifada|
Free Syrian Army
|Opponents||Lebanese Armed Forces
Syrian Armed Forces
|Battles and wars||Insurgency in Lebanon (2007)
Syrian civil war
Fatah al-Islam (Arabic: فتح الإسلام, English: Conquest of Islam) is a radical Sunni Islamist group that formed in November 2006 in a Palestinian refugee camp, located in Lebanon. It has been described as a militant jihadist movement that draws inspiration from al-Qaeda. It became very well known in May 2007 and June 2007 after engaging in combat against the Lebanese Army in the Nahr al-Bared UNRWA Palestinian refugee camp. The United States Department of State classified the group as a terrorist organization on August 9, 2007 but it was not classified as such anymore on November 24, 2010.
- 1 Origins
- 2 Membership
- 3 Ideology
- 4 Activities
- 5 U.S. funding and training
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 External links
Al-Abssi's first militant activities can be traced to connections he established with a secular Palestinian militant group named Fatah al-Intifada in Libya, after it defected from the umbrella Fatah movement in 1983. From Libya, al-Abssi reportedly moved to Damascus, where he made close ties with Fatah al-Intifada's number two in command, Abu Khaled al-Omla.
Syrian authorities arrested al-Abssi in 2000 and sentenced him to three years in prison on charges of smuggling weapons and ammunition between Jordan and Syria. The government later released him. He went to Iraq following the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 and fought alongside groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda. He is said to have become friends with a number of Al-Qaeda leaders there.
In 2004 Al-Abssi was sentenced to death in absentia by a Jordanian military court for involvement in the assassination of U.S. diplomat Laurence Foley, after Syrian authorities refused to extradite him for trial. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was also sentenced to death for the killing of Foley and was thought to have been an associate of Al-Abssi.
He briefly returned to Syria, where he met again with al-Omla, who helped him relocate to Lebanon. Al-Abssi and a group of youth he met in Iraq set themselves up in the headquarters of Fatah Al-Intifada in the village of Helwa in the Western Beqaa District in 2005. In May 2006, Al-Abssi and this small group engaged in armed clashes with Lebanese soldiers that led to the killing of one young Syrian wanted by Damascus for fighting in Iraq.
Syrian intelligence services then summoned al-Omla to ask him about al-Abssi and his group. The investigation unmasked the close coordination between al-Omla and al-Abssi that had been kept from the pro-Damascus Secretary General of Fatah Al-Intifada, Abu Moussa, and by extension, from the Syrian authorities.
Al-Omla then reportedly ordered al-Abssi to leave the Western Beqaa, which is close to the borders with Syria, and head for refugee camps in northern Lebanon.
In November 2006 the Palestinian security committee in Al-Badawi refugee camp in Tripoli handed over two members of al-Abssi's group to Lebanese military intelligence. Al-Abssi was reportedly infuriated and decided to break with Fatah al-Intifada and establish his own group, Fatah al-Islam.
In November 2006 Fatah al-Islam set up a headquarters in the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared in northern Lebanon. The group seized three compounds in the camp that had belonged to the secular Palestinian militant group, Fatah al-Intifada. Al-Abssi then issued a declaration saying he was bringing religion back to the Palestinian cause.
In March 2007 Seymour Hersh, investigative reporter for New Yorker magazine, suggested that the Lebanese government was giving support to Fatah al-Islam, in order to defeat Hezbollah. David Welch, Assistant to Secretary of State, negotiated with the Saudis and Saad Hariri of the American-backed Siniora government to funnel aid to Fatah al-Islam, so that the Sunni group could eventually attack Shiite Hezbollah.
But Michael Young, a writer for Reason magazine, cast doubts on Seymour Hersh's claims. Additionally, Professor Barry Rubin, Director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center, has alleged that Al-Abssi is in fact a Syrian operative engaged in destabilizing the government of Lebanon.
In November 2008, Hussain Abdul-Hussain, a Washington journalist, questioned Hersh's credibility arguing that the American journalist had frequently assigned dates for an American attack on Iran, which never took place. In past stories, Hersh published information that he later corrected. In an article published in NOW Lebanon, Abdul-Hussain also questioned Hersh's links to known Syrian proteges in Lebanon, such as former Information Minister Michel Samaha.
Other indications that Fatah al-Islam, and specifically Fatah Al-Islam leader Shaker Al-Abssi, may have Syrian support come from Samir Geagea, executive body chairman of the Lebanese Forces, who asked why
if anyone is found out to be a Muslim Brotherhood activist, he receives a death sentence, and if he is very lucky, he gets hard labor. So how come Shaker Al-'Absi - who is no ordinary militant but a leader... and who committed a crime in Jordan and was sentenced to death there, and was arrested in Syria - has been released [from prison]?
The official spokesman for Fatah al-Islam is Abu Salim Taha. Fatah al-Islam supposedly has more than 150 armed fighters in the Nahr el-Bared camp. The group allegedly has about more than half a dozen Palestinian members. The bulk of its membership is said to made up of Syrians, Saudis, and other Arab Jihadists who had fought in Iraq, as well as approximately 50 Lebanese extremist Sunnis.
Several news organizations have suggested that Fatah al-Islam has connections to al-Qaeda. Some reports even claim Fatah al-Islam is part of the al-Qaeda network. Abssi has stated that the group has no organization ties to al-Qaeda, "but agrees with its aim of fighting infidels." Fatah al-Islam statements have appeared on Islamist Web sites known to publish al-Qaeda statements.
Syria's ambassador Bashar Ja'afari, responding to Lebanese claims that Syria is a sponsor of Fatah al-Islam, told Reuters that several of the organization's members had been jailed for three or four years in Syria for connections to al-Qaeda, and that upon their release they had left the country. Ja'afari also said that, "If they come to Syria, they will be jailed," and that, "They are not fighting on behalf of the Palestinian cause. They are fighting on behalf of al Qaeda.".
On May 23, 2007 the Arab League issued a statement "strongly condemn[ing] the criminal and terrorist acts carried out by the terrorist group known as Fatah al-Islam," adding that the group has "no relation to the Palestinian question or Islam."
In an interview on CNN International's "Your World Today," Seymour Hersh said that according to an agreement between the United States Vice President Dick Cheney, Deputy National Security Advisor Elliot Abrams, Saudi National Security Adviser Prince Bandar bin Sultan, covert funding for the Sunni Fatah al-Islam would be provided by the Saudi regime to counterweight the influence of the Shiite Hezbollah.
Hersh said, "This was a covert operation that [Prince] Bandar ran with us." He also said that when he was in Beirut he "talked to officials who acknowledged the reason they were tolerating the radical jihadist groups was because they were seen as a protection against Hezbollah."
Hezbollah released a statement saying, "We feel that there is someone out there who wants to drag the [Lebanese] army to this confrontation and bloody struggle ... to serve well-known projects and aims," and it called for a political solution to the crisis.
German train bombings
The fourth-highest-ranking member of Fatah al-Islam, Saddam el-Hajdib, and his brother Khaled Khair-Eddin el-Hajdib, were among the suspects behind failed bombings on German commuter trains on July 31, 2006. The bombs did not explode due to faulty mechanisms. Saddam el-Hajdib was killed by the Lebanese army in the 2007 conflict between Fatah al-Islam and the Lebanese army.
Plot to assassinate anti-Syrian Lebanese officials
On December 7, 2006 Le Monde reported that a top UN official had been informed by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) representative in Lebanon, Abbas Zaki, of a plot by Fatah al-Islam to assassinate 36 anti-Syrian figures in Lebanon. PLO security agents later confronted the group, arresting six of them. Four were later released while a Syrian and a Saudi Arabian were handed over to the Lebanese military.
Lebanese authorities have accused the organization of being involved in the February 13, 2007 bombing of two minibuses that killed three people, and injured more than 20 others, in Ain Alaq, Lebanon, and identified four of its members as having confessed to the bombing. They have also stated that the group is a front for Syrian intelligence in Lebanon. Both Fatah al-Islam and the Syrian government denied the collaboration charges.
Conflict with the Lebanese army
|2007 Lebanon conflict|
According to Ashraf Rifi, the Lebanese Internal Security Forces chief, the bank robbers were traced to an apartment in Tripoli which turned out to be an office for Fatah al-Islam. The armed militants at the office resisted arrest and a gunbattle ensued. A three-day standoff between security forces and militants at the apartment ended on 23 May, after the last Fatah al-Islam militant at that location blew himself up.
Robert Fisk reported that while some of the group that had robbed the bank were cornered in the apartment block, others had holed up in the Nahr el-Bared camp north of the city. Under a 1969 Arab accord, the Lebanese army may not enter the Palestinian refugee camps.
The militants seized Lebanese army positions at the entrance to the Nahr al-Bared camp, capturing two armored personnel carriers. Security officials also reported that the gunmen had opened fire on roads leading out of the camp to Tripoli, and ambushed a military unit, killing two soldiers.
The attacks by Fatah al-Islam killed at least 27 Lebanese soldiers, 15 Fatah al-Islam militants and 15 civilians, injuring another 27 Lebanese soldiers and over 40 civilians. Lebanese forces fired artillery barrages against militants in the camp.
In response, the Lebanese army brought in reinforcements and on May 20 began a steady barrage of artillery and heavy machine gun fire in an attempt to hit militant positions that Fatah al-Islam had occupied inside the Nahr al-Bared camp.
On May 20, a spokesperson for Fatah made an official statement to the WAFA Palestine News Agency affirming that the "so called Fatah al-Islam" is neither part of, nor linked to, the Fatah organization or the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). He further mentioned that this group had launched several attacks against Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and called upon Palestinian refugees to "isolate this emerging group".
The PLO representative in Lebanon, Abbas Zaki also met with official bodies in Lebanon to officially inform them that the group is made up of "extremists" and is not linked with Palestinian agenda.
On May 21, Zaki and other PLO officials attempted to negotiate a ceasefire to alleviate the humanitarian suffering in the camp. While the Lebanese army had been sending tank and mortar fire into the camp in pursuit of Fatah al-Islam, some 30,000 civilians were trapped inside, and conditions had rapidly worsened. A handful of the wounded were taken out but it was impossible to get outside help to many others. At least 8 refugees were killed and 60 others wounded.
Palestinian civilians from the refugee camp were finally able to flee the fighting after Fatah al-Islam declared a unilateral truce on May 22, and the exodus continued on May 23. Fatah al-Islam is still inside the camp, and says that if it is attacked, it will fight to the death.
An al Qaeda military official warned the Lebanese government to stop attacks on the Fatah al-Islam cell, or else “we will tear out your hearts with traps and surround your places with explosive canisters, and target all your businesses, beginning with tourism and ending with other rotten industries... We warn you for the last time, and after it there will only be rivers of blood.”
On the June 16, 2007, 68 Lebanese soldiers, 50 Fatah al-Islam supporters and 32 civilian Palestinians had been killed in the fighting according to Dailystar newspaper.
On Sunday, September 2, 2007, the Lebanese Army took control of the Nahr el-Bared camp, after three months of fighting. Thirty-nine Fatah al-Islam members were killed while attempting a mass pre-dawn break-out from the camp. At least three Lebanese soldiers also died in Sunday's fighting, taking the number of troops killed in 3 months to 158. At least 222 militants and a number of civilians were also killed in the same period. One day after the Lebanese Army victory unidentified fighters apparently clashed with security forces wounding two. On Monday, September 10, 2007 it was announced that DNA tests on a body thought to be the group's leader Shaker al-Abssi had turned out negative. Lebanese officials now say that he probably fled the fighting in the camp before the army took control.
On Wednesday, December 12, 2007, Lebanese Army Major General Francois el-Hajj and his bodyguard were killed in a car bombing attack in Baabda. Several suspects have since been apprehended and investigated, and investigation suggests Fatah al-Islam involvement.
On Wednesday, January 9, 2008, Fatah al-Islam chief Shaker al-Abssi made a public speech in Lebanon, acknowledging his escape and vowing for revenge against the Lebanese army after the group's defeat in the 2007 Lebanon conflict.
According to Lebanese and Palestinian sources, Fatah al-Islam had planned to revolt and establish an emirate in the area of Tripoli with the help of al-Qaeda members who had fled Iraq. This operation was dubbed "Operation 755". According to Lebanese sources, the plot was uncovered and foiled. Lebanese security forces had found CDs with detailed plans for this plot. Abu-Salim Taha, spokesperson for the Fatah al-Islam denied these charges.
On June 21, 2007, Lebanese State Prosecutor Saeed Mirza filed criminal charges against 16 Fatah al-Islam members accused of carrying out the February 13, 2007 Lebanon bombings against two civilian buses that killed two people and injured 21 others. Those attacks took place in Ain Alaq, a Lebanese mountain village.
Nine of the 16 suspects accused were in custody when the charges were filed; other, including Fatah al-Islam head Shaker al-Abssi and the group's reputed military commander Shehab Abu Qadour a/k/a Abu Hureira before his death were still being sought. The defendants include ten Syrians, two Lebanese, three Palestinians (including one woman) and a Saudi national.
Syria has alleged that Fatah al-Islam was behind the September 27, 2008 car bombing in Damascus, which left 17 dead. Syrian TV aired confessions of 10 people, including Shaker al-Abssi's daughter, who said they carried out the attack.
Death of Abd-al-Rahman Awad
Abd-al-Rahman Awad and an associate were intercepted on a main road in eastern Lebanon and died in an exchange of fire with security forces. Abd-al-Rahman Awad was already high on the Lebanese wanted list. He had been condemned to death in absentia on charges relating to a number of bomb attacks and killings over the past three years. According to Lebanese security officials, he had recently been hiding in the big Palestinian refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh near Sidon in the south. He was traveling with two companions on the main road to Syria when he was ambushed by security forces in the town of Chtaura in east Lebanon. Mr Awad and one of his associates named Abu Bakr Abdullah were killed in a hail of gunfire. The third man escaped. On August 18, 2010 the group says its leader and a top commander were heading to Iraq to join insurgents there when Lebanese security troops killed them over the weekend, according to a U.S. terror-monitoring firm. The Washington-based SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks militant postings on the Internet, said Wednesday that a statement on jihadist forums from the Fatah Islam group confirmed the deaths of the two. The statement also said that they were going to Iraq to join the Islamic State of Iraq.  On August 19, 2010 Hundreds of mourners in a south Lebanon camp on Thursday laid to rest Fatah al-Islam head Abdel Rahman Awad. The open-casket funeral of Awad, dubbed the "prince" of Fatah al-Islam and formerly one of Lebanon's most wanted Islamists, was held at Ain al-Hilweh and attended by his family, representatives of Islamist factions and members of the Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas's Fatah movement. Awad, who had been hiding in Ain al-Hilweh for more than a year, opened fire at troops along with his comrade and the soldiers responded, killing the pair, the army said.Abu Bakr was rumoured to have provided military training to members of Fatah al-Islam. His funeral was expected later on Thursday.
Syrian Civil War
The new leadership of Fatah al-Islam has given enthusiastic support to the Syrian uprising. Beginning in the spring of 2012, Fatah al-Islam has reported a small number of attacks in Syria, but its leadership has been decimated in recent months. In April 2012, one of the leaders of the group, Abdel Ghani Jawhar, was killed in the city of Al-Qusair, Syria after accidentally blowing himself up while making a bomb. The chief of its military wing (the Caliphate Brigades), Nidal al-Asha, was killed in Aleppo in July 2012, and the group's emir, Abdelaziz al-Kourakli (Abu Hussam al-Shami), died in an ambush on the Deraa-Damascus road in September 2012. In October 2012, another founding member and former chief organizer in North Lebanon, Abu Qaswara al-Qurashi, was killed in a gun battle in Homs.
U.S. funding and training
In its initial phase, the group received U.S. funding through funds given to the Lebanese government, led by prime minister Fouad Siniora, in order to weaken Syria, which was seen as a supporter of terrorism in Iraq. Fatah al Islam was regarded as hostile towards the Syrian friendly Hezbollah, therefore deemed worthy of financial support by the Siniora government. 
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