Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces (ISF) have circulated a warning that Prime Minister Najib Mikati has been named as a possible target for assassination. Some security officials have downplayed the threat, but others are taking it seriously, given al-Qaeda’s increased activity in Lebanon, particularly in the north and the Bekaa.
Is Mikati now on an al-Qaeda hit list? A memo dispatched by the chief of the Government Guard, states:
“Information has come to light that an explosive charge has been planted in a champagne-color Kia SUV, driven by a Syrian suicide bomber named Abu al-Adnan from the Khaled bin al-Walid Brigades of the Islamic Front. The car might target a senior political figure in Tripoli or Beirut, and has started moving closer to the target. There are [also] reports about a black bomb-rigged Honda that might be detonated in Tripoli near the house of the figure in question.”
When the memo was first publicized, it was thought to be one of a dozen similar reports circulated by the security services to their units, based on tips from informants or “technical sources,” like phone and electronic surveillance.
Some of the security officials we spoke to downplayed the report, saying, “We know that this is not a credible threat.” But if so, then why was the information circulated? One security official answered, “We cannot afford to be complacent about such information. We circulate it to fulfill our duties and allow precautionary measures to be taken.”
The report identified the Islamic Front as the party planning to assassinate Mikati. The Islamic Front is a Syrian opposition group that was formed two months ago, merging a number of Syrian opposition factions. The backbone of the Front is made up of Salafi fighters and clerics, with various political affiliations. Some are backed by Turkey, others by Qatar, but a majority of them are closely linked to Saudi intelligence.
Some political sources have found reason for pause in this information, especially since it is emerging in parallel with an incitement campaign led by the Future Movement – and Saudi Arabia – in North Lebanon against Mikati, even though he resigned as prime minister more than 10 months ago, in deference to a Saudi desire to remove Hezbollah from the government. Sources said that Saudi Arabia’s doors remain closed to Mikati.
Incitement in the north is not limited to Mikati. Prominent clerics in Tripoli have also complained about receiving death threats from Salafi extremists affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Clerics and security officials reckoned that the threat is serious because it comes at a time when al-Qaeda affiliated groups are operating freely in the north and Bekaa. In some areas, for example, armed militants from al-Qaeda affiliates like al-Nusra Front and ISIS now appear publicly, from Tripoli to Akkar, all the way to Ersal.
These areas, despite the Future Movement’s clout, are now practically in the hands of extremist groups, including those close to al-Qaeda. Indeed, on the ground, the Future Movement’s strength in Tripoli is in decline. People previously thought to be supporters of Future are now closer to the discourse of al-Qaeda. Similarly in Ersal, mayor Ali al-Houjeiri and other Future-affiliated figures no longer control things on the ground, and have long been overtaken by al-Nusra- and ISIS-affiliated groups.
Sources close to the security establishment and Islamist sources say that ISIS has decided to expand into Lebanon. ISIS’ bid has been reinforced following the disputes among jihadi groups in Syria, for example, between ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, and al-Nusra leader Abu Mohammed al-Golani.
Twitter user @wikibaghdady, who has been leaking confidential information about ISIS for weeks, has mentioned that Baghdadi wants to expand his group and gather pledges of allegiance from all around the world, with the first logical destination after Iraq and Syria being Lebanon. Al-Qaeda’s successes in carrying out suicide bombings and other attacks in Bekaa and Beirut – against mostly civilian targets – has also helped ISIS’ bid. Al-Qaeda’s affiliates believe that by merely starting a battle with Hezbollah in Lebanon, jihadis everywhere will flock to the country.
Meanwhile, reports have surfaced regarding Lebanese Salafi groups heading to Syria to receive the approval of jihadi groups there to begin operating in Lebanon. A group led by a North Lebanon-man identified as A. M. reportedly went to Syria to obtain ISIS’ blessing, before returning to Tripoli.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.