Friday, March 02, 2007

Western intelligence sources worried by jihadist upsurge in Lebanon

Western intelligence sources worried by jihadist upsurge in Lebanon
By Amos Harel, Haaretz Correspondent

Western intelligence agencies are worried by a growing concentration of terror operatives associated with the global jihad movement in Lebanon.

Recent intelligence indicates that hundreds of Sunni Muslim terrorists from various Arab countries are currently residing around Tyre, mainly in a Palestinian refugee camp near the city. Some of the terrorists are apparently from Sudan and Yemen.

Both Western and Israeli intelligence agencies fear that the jihadists' growing presence in southern Lebanon will lead to more attacks against Israel and a renewed escalation along the northern border. The United Nations forces deployed along the border following last summer's war with Hezbollah are also considered potential targets.

Global jihad is the term used by intelligence agencies for a wide variety of terror groups that derive inspiration from Al-Qaida and occasionally maintain contact with Osama bin Laden's organization.

In December 2005, members of the Lebanese Al-Ansar group, which is affiliated with global jihad, fired Katyusha rockets at the Galilee panhandle, though no one was hurt. The organization had been in contact with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, then head of Al-Qaida in Iraq, who was killed by American forces last June.

There is considerable tension between the global jihad groups in Lebanon and Hezbollah - not only because Hezbollah is Shi'ite rather than Sunni, but also because they have been involved in turf wars.

Until its war with Israel last summer, Hezbollah was considered the sole power in southern Lebanon. It demanded that all other organizations obtain permission from it before carrying out any attacks on Israel. Shortly before his death, Zarqawi lambasted Hezbollah for this and accused its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, of "collaborating with Israel," because at that time - prior to its July kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers - Hezbollah was vetoing attacks by other groups.

In his intelligence briefing to the cabinet earlier this week, Military Intelligence head Amos Yadlin spoke of growing activity by the global jihad movement along Israel's borders. In addition to Lebanon, the main worries are attacks against Israelis in Sinai or attacks in Jordan. In late 2005, then MI head Aharon Ze'evi said both Israeli and American intelligence had learned that senior Al-Qaida officials had instructed operatives to focus on "the Near East," meaning Israel and its neighbors.

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