LEADER: Abu Muhjen
USUAL AREA OF OPERATION: Lebanon
Asbat al-Ansar (Usbat al-Ansar) was formed in 1985 in the refugee camp, Ayn al-Hilwah (also spelled Ain il-Hilweh), as a splinter faction from one of the Muslim groups that fought in the Lebanese civil war. The group adheres to the Sunni sect of Islam and seeks to overthrow the Lebanese government and replace it with an Islamic state. The group also seeks to purge the country of Western influences and anything it perceives as anti-Islam. Asbat al-Ansar believes that its goal to create a fundamentalist Islamic state justifies violence, even against civilians and other Muslims. Membership in the Asbat al-Ansar is largely Palestinian, leading to conflicts with other groups in the refugee camp such as the Fatah movement founded by Yasser Arafat. As such, the group is virulently against the peace with Israel and seeks to derail the peace process occurring between Israel and its Arab neighbors.
The name Asbat al-Ansar is translated to mean "League of Followers" or "Partisan League." Its early attacks were lower-level bombings of targets considered to be "un-Muslim," such as churches, nightclubs, casinos, and bars. However, many of the members of Asbat al-Ansar have been either trained in al-Qaeda camps or are veterans from the Afghan-Soviet war. In either case, the ties to al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden are apparent. This alliance caused the United States to list Asbat al-Ansar as one of the first 11 groups identified as a terrorist organization after the attacks on the United States of September 11, 2001.
Lebanon was once a haven for political cooperation. It was structured to reflect its population as identified in a 1932 census. This National Pact provided for representation of each of the parties in the country: by custom, the president would be a Maronite (or Christian), the Prime Minister would be a Sunni Muslim, and the speaker of the Chamber of Deputies would be a Shi'ite Muslim. By mid 1975, the government no longer accurately represented the population and thus set the stage for civil war as sectarian militias and external regimes clamored for power. The first events of the civil war occurred in 1975, with an assassination attempt on Pierre Gemayel, who had been the founder of the Phalange party, a Maronite (and Christian) paramilitary youth organization. The party gained support and power through the 1960s with its hope for a Lebanon made distinct from its Arab and Muslim neighbors through the embracing of Western influences. Phalangists believe Palestinians were the would-be assassins of Pierre Gemayel, and retaliated by killing 26 Palestinian passengers riding a bus across a Christian neighborhood. These were Palestinian refugees who had resided in the southern outskirts of west Beirut since the first Arab-Israeli War in 1949. The conflict, however, was deeper than Muslim versus Christian. By 1991, the civil war had ended, but the country had to rebuild many of its institutions. The political structure was rebuilt under the Ta'if Accord and a system more representative of the population was established, in particular by providing Muslims more access in the political process.
Granting Muslims greater involvement in the political system did little to appease those wishing to create an Islamic state and purge Lebanon of anything of Western influence. Many of these dissidents were refugees residing in camps in the southern region of the country. Palestinians who fled the Arab-Israeli wars in 1948 and 1967 resided in these refugee camps. However, the Arab League accords have resolved that the refugee camps are not under the direction of the Lebanese government. The camps are, in fact, autonomous units. This has led to a power struggle for leadership of the various camps between groups like Asbat al-Ansar, Fatah, and Hezbollah. These power struggles have created violence inside the camps.
Asbat al-Ansar was created in 1985 by Hisham Shreidi in one of these refugee camps, called Ayn al-Hilwa. Shreidi was assassinated by Fatah in 1991. The group was a splinter faction from a Muslim group that fought during the Lebanese civil war. Many of its first activities occurred in the early 1990s. The attacks were considered low-level targeting of un-Islamic sites, such as churches, bars, and casinos. The group was also linked to a series of murders against rival Palestinian and Islamic groups that also operate in southern Lebanon. One such attack was the assassination of rival Sunni cleric, Sheikh Nazar Halibi, the former leader of the Islamic Charity Projects Association, or Ahbash Movement. Asbat al-Ansar leader, Abu Mahjan, was later convicted of the assassination. By 1999, the group had begun to seek larger targets. It then successfully bombed a customs building and killed four judges.
Although many of Asbat al-Ansar's operatives are Palestinians, the group has been well trained in guerilla warfare. Many of the members fought in Afghanistan during the war with the Soviet Union. Others were trained in al-Qaeda training camps. This connection became more apparent as al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden provided funding for additional attacks. In 2000, Asbat al-Ansar operative, Abu Kharab, fired rocket-propelled grenades into the Russian Embassy in Beirut to show solidarity with the Chechen rebels. The attack injured seven and killed one before Kharab was then shot to death himself. In 2001, Jordanian and Lebanese intelligence services foiled a plot to similarly attack the Jordanian, U.S. and British embassies in Beirut. Also in 2001, Asbat al-Ansar became one of the first organizations designated for sanctions on grounds of supporting al-Qaeda by U.S. presidential Executive Order 13224.
In 2003, Asbat al-Ansar continued to move toward its goal of an Islamic state while struggling for power within the refugee camp. Ibn al-Shahid, an Asbat al-Ansar operative, was charged with attempted car-bombings at fast-food restaurants in 2002, and targeting a McDonald's restaurant in 2003. In addition, the group participated in rocket attacks on a TV building in Beirut. At the same time, violent clashes in Ayn al-Hilwa pitted Asbat al-Ansar against the Fatah movement. By the end of the violence, eight people had been killed and 25 were wounded.
Hisham Shreidi founded Asbat al-Ansar in 1985 to rival the Fatah movement, which was then led by Yasser Arafat. Shreidi was assassinated in 1991 by Fatah operatives.
Abu Muhjen, also known as Ahmed Abdul Karin al Saadi, is the current leader of Asbat al-Ansar. Muhjen is believed to be residing in the Ayn al-Hilwah refugee camp and directing operations from there. He was convicted in abstentia on three separate occasions for the assassination of Sheikh Nizar al Halabi, the former leader of the Islamic Charity Projects Association, or the Ahbash Movement.
In 2004, much of the activities of Asbat al-Ansar surrounded the struggle for power within the Ayn al-Hilwa refugee camp. The group did, however, vocalize its condemnation for the U.S. presence in Iraq. In communiqués, the group exhorted Iraqi insurgents to kill U.S. personnel and to avenge the deaths of Hamas leaders, Abdul Aziz Ratisi and Sheikh Ahmen Yassin, who were both assassinated during Israeli attacks on Gaza city. Also in 2004, Asbat al-Ansar operative Mahir al-Sa'di, was sentenced in abstentia for a plot to assassinate the former U.S. ambassador to Lebanon, David Satterfield. In another example of the alliance between Asbat al-Ansar and al-Qaeda, al-Sa'di worked along side Abu Muhammad al-Masri who headed the al-Qaeda movement in the Ayn al-Hilwa refugee camp.
PHILOSOPHY AND TACTICS
Asbat al-Ansar is a Sunni Muslim group with a salafist tradition. Salafists believe in a strict interpretation of Islam. The Islamic state that the group wishes to create in Lebanon would adhere to the strict interpretation of Islam. As part of the tradition, the group employs a "defensive jihad" to fight perceived attacks on Islam. As such, the group seeks to purge any Western influences or anything deemed un-Islamic from Lebanon. To reach these objectives, the group has employed the tactics of assassinations, or attempted assassinations, and rocket-propelled grenade attacks on specific sites, such as foreign embassies, fast-food restaurants, churches, and nightclubs.
- Asbat al-Ansar is formed in the Ayn al-Hilwah refugee camp near Sidon in Southern Lebanon. The group was a splinter faction from Muslim forces that fought during Lebanon's civil war.
- The group engages in low-level attacks on non-Islamic or western targets such as churches, bars, casinos, and nightclubs.
- Founder of Asbat al-Ansar, Hisham Shreidi, is assassinated by Fatah operatives.
- Leader of Asbat al-Ansar, Abu Mahjan, assassinates rival Sunni leader, Sheikh Nizar al Halabi.
- The group launches bombing attack on customs building and kills four judges.
- Asbat al-Ansar operative, Abu Kharab, fires rocket propelled grenades into the Russian embassy in Beirut to show solidarity with Chechen rebels. He injures seven and kills one before he is shot to death by Lebanese police.
- Jordanian and Lebanese intelligence services foil a plot to attack Jordanian, U.S., and British embassies in Lebanon.
- Asbat al-Ansar is designated as a terrorist organization by President George W. Bush's Executive Order 13224 due to ties with al-Qaeda.
- Ibn al-Shahid is charged with the attempted car bombing of several fast-food restaurants, including a McDonald's restaurant in Beirut.
- Violent clashes between Asbat al-Ansar and Fatah erupt within the Ayn al-Hilwah refugee camp.
- Members of Asbat al-Ansar launch rocket propelled grenade attacks on a TV building in Beirut.
- Italian, Lebanese, and Syrian intelligence services stop a plot to attack the Italian embassy, Ukrainian consulate, and Lebanese government offices.
- Asbat al-Ansar voices vocal condemnation of U.S. presence in Iraq and urges insurgents to kill U.S. personnel.
- Mahir al-Sa'di, an operative in Asbat al-Ansar, is sentenced in abstentia for the assassination plot against former U.S. ambassador to Lebanon David Satterfield.
In addition, Asbat al-Ansar is virulently opposed to the presence of an Israeli state in the Middle East. As a result, the group has struggled for power within the Ayn al-Hilwah refugee camp with other Palestinian organizations.
Asbat al-Ansar, the League of the Followers or Partisans' League, is a Lebanon-based Sunni extremist group, composed primarily of Palestinians with links to Usama Bin Ladin's al-Qa'ida organization and other Sunni extremist groups. The group follows an extremist interpretation of Islam that justifies violence against civilian targets to achieve political ends. Some of the group's goals include overthrowing the Lebanese Government and thwarting perceived anti-Islamic and pro-Western influences in the country.
Asbat al-Ansar has carried out multiple terrorist attacks in Lebanon since it first emerged in the early 1990s. The group assassinated Lebanese religious leaders and bombed nightclubs, theaters, and liquor stores in the mid-1990s. The group raised its operational profile in 2000 with two attacks against Lebanese and international targets. It was involved in clashes in northern Lebanon in December 1999 and carried out a rocket-propelled grenade attack on the Russian Embassy in Beirut in January 2000. Asbat al-Ansar's leader, Abu Muhjin, remains at large despite being sentenced to death in absentia for the 1994 murder of a Muslim cleric.
Suspected Asbat al-Ansar elements were responsible for an attempt in April 2003 to use a car bomb against a McDonald's in a Beirut suburb. By October, Lebanese security forces arrested Ibn al-Shahid, who is believed to be associated with Asbat al-Ansar, and charged him with masterminding the bombing of three fast food restaurants in 2002 and the attempted attack on a McDonald's in 2003. Asbat forces were involved in other violence in Lebanon in 2003, including clashes with members of Yassir Arafat's Fatah movement in the 'Ayn al-Hilwah refugee camp and a rocket attack in June on the Future TV building in Beirut.
In 2004, no successful terrorist attacks were attributed to Asbat al-Ansar. However, in September, operatives with links to the group were believed to be involved in a planned terrorist operation targeting the Italian Embassy, the Ukrainian Consulate General, and Lebanese Government offices. The plot, which reportedly also involved other Lebanese Sunni extremists, was thwarted by Italian, Lebanese, and Syrian security agencies. In 2004, Asbat al-Ansar remained vocal in its condemnation of the United States' presence in Iraq, and in April the group urged Iraqi insurgents to kill US and other hostages to avenge the death of HAMAS leaders Abdul Aziz Rantisi and Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. In October, Mahir al-Sa'di, a member of Asbat al-Ansar, was sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment for plotting to assassinate former US Ambassador to Lebanon David Satterfield in 2000. Until his death in March 2003, al-Sa'di worked in cooperation with Abu Muhammad al-Masri, the head of al-Qa'ida at the 'Ayn al-Hilwah refugee camp, where fighting has occurred between Asbat al-Ansar and Fatah elements.
The group commands about 300 fighters in Lebanon.
LOCATION/AREA OF OPERATION
The group's primary base of operations is the Ayn al-Hilwah Palestinian refugee camp near Sidon in southern Lebanon.
Probably receives money through international Sunni extremist networks and possibly Usama Bin Ladin's al-Qa'ida network.
Source: U.S. Department of State. Country Reports on Terrorism. Washington, D.C., 2004.
Members of Asbat al-Ansar adopt the belief that by giving in to the two-state agreement in the Oslo Accords, Yasser Arafat began chiseling away at regaining the territory once known as the British Mandate Palestine. By negotiating with Israel, Asbat al-Ansar and other like-minded groups labeled Arafat an "infidel" and have sought to dismantle the power structure led by the Palestinian Liberation Organization and Fatah. Within this struggle, the group engages in assassinations and intimidation campaigns targeting supporters of Fatah.
The residents of the Lebanese refugee camps fled their homes during the Arab-Israeli wars of 1948 and 1967. Asbat al-Ansar had struggled with other Palestinian organizations such as Fatah for power. The Center for Defense Information asserts that, "Asbat al-Ansar is thus a leading authority over a crowd of disenfranchised, largely radicalized Palestinians operating under the protection of the Arab world (though not a particular state) and responsible to no one." As a result, the group works toward marginalizing those groups that would allow a Palestinian state. Fatah is considered such a group since the organization was founded by Yasser Arafat and it was Arafat who signed the two-state agreement in the Oslo Accords. The Center for Defense Information states, "It seems likely that the militants of Asbat al-Ansar will continue to prevent such a peace agreement from coming about. Furthermore, with a supply of funds from Osama bin Laden and other international Sunni extremist networks, and under the continued protection of the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, Asbat al-Ansar will be difficult to eradicate. Lebanon, for its part, had done little to curb the violence within the camp, or the alliances fostered with other organizations such as al-Qaeda." Jonathan Schanzer of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy believes that since Asbat al-Ansar is the Lebanese faction of al-Qaeda, more should be done to destroy it or the consequences could be devastating to the Western world. He writes, "Lebanon, however, allows this group to grow by ignoring it. If this continues, Asbat al-Ansar may come to pose a greater threat. Indeed, it could become a launch pad for other al-Qaeda attacks in the future."
Asbat al-Ansar was formed in 1985 as a splinter organization from one of the Muslim groups that fought during the Lebanese civil war. Its expressed goal is the creation of an Islamic state in Lebanon. Other goals it seeks to achieve are the removal of Western influences from the Middle East and the destruction of Israel. When Asbat al-Ansar began, it employed low-level attacks on un-Islamic sites such as churches, nightclubs, casinos, and bars. However, as it developed ties with Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, the group attempted to instigate larger attacks. One successful attack occurred in 2000 when operatives from the group launched rocket-propelled grenades into the Russian Embassy in Beirut to demonstrate solidarity with Chechen rebels. Much of the recent violence, however, is the result of a power struggle occurring within the refugee camp where the group operates. Asbat al-Ansar and Fatah have exchanged assassinations of leaders and intimidation campaigns on members in an effort to gain control of the refugee camp. The struggle goes deeper than that, however. Members of Asbat al-Ansar believe that by negotiating with Israel, Yasser Arafat—who founded Fatah—betrayed the Palestinian people. As such, Asbat al-Ansar seeks to lead the movement to destroy Israel and purge Western influences from the region. This conflict, however, has led to internal struggle within Asbat al-Ansar. In 2001, the son of the founder of Asbat al-Ansar broke away from the group with approximately 250 guerilla supporters. This breakaway faction is known as Jama'at al-Nur, or Association of the Enlightened.
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