Al Qaeda Renews Violent Duel with Fatah over Lebanese Palestinian Camp

Saturday, March 2003, Abu Mohammed Al Masri, or Farouq al-Masri was walking back to his store from regular prayers at the central mosque of the South Lebanese Ein Hilweh Palestinian camp when a parked white Mercedes exploded and killed him. A day later, in another country, al Qaeda’s operations chief Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was hauled out of bed in Karachi, Pakistan, and taken into US custody. Osama bin Laden’s organization lost two top operatives in two days.
“Al Masri” was quickly identified by Lebanese intelligence as Ahmed Mohammed Hamed Ali, a Palestinian from Nablus and undercover chief of al Qaeda forces in south Lebanon. He headed a group of Islamist fundamentalist Palestinians calling itself Esbat Al Ansar (League of Partisans) which had been fighting Fatah for control of the teeming Ein Hilweh camp (estimated population of 60,000).
Israeli and Jordanian intelligence verified his identity. The Jordanians had more than a passing acquaintance with “Al Masri,” alleging he was the ringleader of an al Qaeda cell assigned in Christmas 1999 with attacking Christian places of pilgrimage on the Jordan River, among them the traditional site of John’s first baptism east of Jericho on the Israeli border. This confirmed that al Qaeda had recruited Palestinian terrorist elements in Lebanon, such as “Al Masri,” who took up residence in Ain Hilwa in 1997, for this pre-millennium strike in Jordan.
In 2001, the Bush administration listed Esbat Al Ansar as a terrorist group. By then, the fundamentalists had left a trail of mayhem – murdering Lebanese judges as well as each other, attacking Lebanese army checkpoints and troops, fighting bloody clashes with Lebanese troops and rival Fatah, blowing up stores in Sidon.
Al Masri’s murder was claimed by an unknown group calling itself Youth of the Armed Palestinian Struggle which charged him with responsibility for a string of lethal bomb blasts in the camp. “We decided to sever the head of the snake planted in the camp by aliens,” said their statement.
Lebanese and Palestinian authorities tried to pin the murder on the Israeli Mossad, claiming an Israeli reconnaissance aircraft had hovered overhead at the time and directed an electronic beam to detonate the bomb car. But then, the episode appears to have died down.
But not, according to debkafile‘s counter-terror sources, for al Qaeda.
Some 20 months later, on January 15, 2005, an unusual al Qaeda communique appeared on various jihadist websites asserting that an exhaustive probe conducted into the murder of “our brother Muhammed Al Masri” had elicited ironclad proof of an assassination conspiracy by Lebanese domestic security service and the Fatah’s Ein Hilweh command. The former was said to have provided the bomb vehicle, while Fatah smuggled it into the camp and parked it along al Masri’s route from mosque to store, detonating it by remote control.
Having assigned guilt, the al Qaeda statement added, “We warn Fatah-Lebanon that we intend very soon to avenge the blood of our brother Al Masri. This warning is addressed to the entire Fatah command and leadership hierarchy in Lebanon – from the highest to the lowest commander.
debkafile‘s terrorism experts name the top Fatah commander in Lebanon as Sultan Abu Al Aynayn, who operates a command base in Ein Hilweh.
They note that the al Qaeda communique is unprecedented because of three ground-breaking features:
1. Osama bin Laden’s organization has never before publicly announced an inquiry into the death or capture of any of its people – and certainly not its findings.
2. Al Qaeda has never openly admitted to operating in Lebanon, nor was Al Masri ever named as one of its own. This was also the organization’s first claim of a foothold in a Palestinian refugee camp anywhere.
3. Al Qaeda has never before sworn to avenge the loss of any of its top men; nor threatened openly to liquidate the leaders of a fellow terrorist or Muslim organization.
The statement is therefore taken as a declaration of war by the global jihadist al Qaeda on the Palestinian Fatah for control of Ein Hilweh, a strategic location commanding South Lebanon’s Mediterranean coast. It was issued the day that the new Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas was sworn in to take Arafat’s place in Ramallah. Abbas faces the challenge of asserting his leadership over all parts of the Fatah movement, from the outlawed factions in Lebanon to the violent Al Aqsa Martyrs (Suicide) Brigades and Tanzim arms rampant in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Failure to do so will seriously undermine his authority and destabilize his regime.

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