Monday, September 03, 2007

Fatah al-Islam chief Shaker al-Abssi killed

Fatah al-Islam chief Shaker al-Abssi killed
By Agence France Presse (AFP)

NAHR AL-BARED, Lebanon, Sept 2, 2007 (AFP) - The head of Fatah al-Islam, Shaker al-Abssi, was killed on Sunday in fighting with the Lebanese army at a refugee camp and his body has been identified, an army officer told AFP. "The body of Shaker al-Abssi is among the corpses of Islamists taken to the state-run hospital in Tripoli," said the officer, who did not wish to be identified. Several medical examiners were dispatched to the hospital to view the bodies of Islamists taken there, he added. Lebanese minister Ahmad Fatfat told Al-Jazeera television, monitored in Dubai, that it appeared that Abssi had been killed in the siege. "Information that reached me about one and a half hours ago (around 1830 GMT) confirms up to 90 percent that several witnesses identified the body of Mr Shaker al-Abssi at the government hospital in Tripoli," said Fatfat. "But further confirmations are required, additional witnesses have been called, and DNA tests are being carried out in order to have a definite confirmation before an official statement is issued," he said.

Fatfat is minister for youth and sports and close to Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. Asked how long these procedures would take, he said: "If witnesses are unanimous, I think DNA (tests) would become secondary, especially since Abssi's wife is on hand. But if a DNA test is needed, that takes around two days." -AFP

Abssi: fighter pilot turned Islamist radical

Shaker al-Abssi, the Al-Qaeda-inspired leader whose fate is unknown after a bloody siege in Lebanon, is a Palestinian refugee with a battle-hardened and globetrotting past. In the 1980s, Abssi served in the secular Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), flew MiG fighter jets for Libya in its war with Chad, and fought Israeli forces which invaded Lebanon to drive out the PLO, his brother Abed said. But later Abssi turned to radical Islam out of both religious conviction and "frustration" over the failure of the Palestinian cause, Abed told AFP recently in the Jordan capital where he lives and works as an orthopaedic surgeon. "My brother is one of them (Islamist radicals). They think maybe Islam is the way to liberation. Everything else failed," he said as he worried about his brother.

His fate remained unknown as one Lebanese army office said Abssi, the leader of Fatah al-Islam, appeared to have fled the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp in north Lebanon the troops announced they had retaken control on Sunday. But an army source told AFP later that his body had been identified among the dead Islamists taken to the state-run hospital in Tripoli. In addition to being sought by Lebanese troops, he is wanted by both Syria and Jordan for radical activities, including a plot that killed a US diplomat in Amman. Born in the Ain Sultan refugee camp near the West Bank town of Jericho in 1955, Abssi fled with his family to Jordan after Israel occupied the West Bank in the 1967 war. Abed described his brother as a "brilliant" student in high school who left for Tunis to study medicine, but his main ambition was to work directly for "the liberation of Palestine." Abssi jointed Fatah, the main PLO faction, which sent him to Libya to become a pilot of Russian-built MiG fighters at the air force academy there, he added. "He was very successful. He piloted the MiG 23. When Libya went to war with Chad, he defended Libyan territory with his plane," Abed al-Abssi added. While a medical student in Cuba in 1981, Abed al-Abssi received a visit from Shaker who was en route to Nicaragua "where he was to help train a Sandinista air force. He stayed there four or five months, I believe." Then during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, he fought in the Bekaa Valley as the PLO did not have any planes, before returning to serve in the Libyan air force.

In 2002, the Syrian authorities threw him in prison for belonging to a banned Islamist group and for plotting attacks. During his three years in jail, a Jordanian court sentenced him to death in his absence for having taken part in organising the 2002 assassination in Amman of US diplomat Laurence Foley. Released in 2005, he left for Lebanon, where he was an activist leader for the Fatah-Intifada group, which was close to Syria, in the Palestinian refugee camp of Shatila in Beirut. But months later he chose the path of radical Islam and led 100 armed men to set up beside the Nahr al-Bared camp. There he founded Fatah al-Islam. In an interview with the New York Times in March, Abssi pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden, the fugitive leader of the Al-Qaeda network, and said that killing American and Israeli civilians is justified. "We have every legitimate right to do such acts, for isn't it America that comes to our region and kills innocents and children? It is our right to hit them in their homes the same as they hit us in our homes," he told the daily.- AFP

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