A leading jihadi ideologue known as “the Spearhead of the Mujahedeen” claims that al-Qaeda already exists in Palestine and soon there will be “huge good news” to prove its existence. In an internet question and answer session, “Assad al-Jihad 2” concentrated on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the shadow of last December’s Gaza conflict. Assad al-Jihad 2 is a regular contributor of articles written on behalf of al-Qaeda and affiliated groups, which are usually posted on jihadi web-forums and are highly regarded by their users. The question and answer session was published by al-Qaeda’s Global Islamic Media Front and posted on several jihadi websites (al-faloja.info, February 7).
Assad al-Jihad 2 focused on the so-called “al-Qaeda in the Levant,” claiming that this organization is “well-established and firm in the region, like the Levant’s mountains. [The organization] has studied every inch of the Levant, sent their reports to the leaders of al-Qaeda, and discussed them with the geniuses of the organization. [Al-Qaeda] has penetrated the Levant states and infiltrated them. I think the reason for the delay in announcing the presence of the organization is due to waiting for the completion of preparations.”
The ideologist stated that the goal of al-Qaeda in the region is to fight against Israel, alleging that the organization was already behind missile strikes on “the north of so-called Israel” on June 17, 2007, and again in January 2008; “one day before [ex-President] Bush’s visit to the region.” Assad al-Jihad 2 also claimed that the weapons the Lebanese army announced they discovered stored in the south of the country on December 25, 2008 belonged to al-Qaeda in the Levant. He claimed that these Russian pattern Grad rockets were stored for use in attacks on Akka (Acre) and the northern Israeli cities of Nahariya and Shlomi. Nahariya was targeted by hundreds of Hezbollah rockets in 2006; Shlomi was struck by Hezbollah rockets in 2005 and 2006.
Assad al-Jihad 2 asserted that al-Qaeda started to attack Israel from Lebanon in December 2005, when the late leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi, claimed responsibility for launching missile attacks on northern Israel (Daily Star [Beirut], December 20, 2005; Jerusalem Post, December 30, 2005). Assad al-Jihad 2 also claimed Osama Bin Laden has sent some al-Qaeda leaders to create bases in Lebanon. One of these leaders was Salih al-Qablawi (Abu Ja’afar al-Maqdesi) from Ain al-Hilwa, who was the mastermind behind an attack against Israel in 2002. Al-Qablwai later became friends with al-Zarqawi and appeared with him in a video in 2006 before being killed in Iraq the same year.
The status of Lebanon’s Salafi-Jihadi Fatah al-Islam movement and the fate of its missing leader, Shaker Yusuf al-Absi, were discussed at length in the question and answer session. Assad al-Jihad 2 strongly criticized Syria, threatening to wage war against the Damascus regime and challenging it to respond to the “detailed” information he provided about Fatah al-Islam and the whereabouts of its founder. Lebanese security forces initially claimed al-Absi was killed in September 2007 while trying to escape a bloody three-month siege of the Nahr al-Barid refugee camp. DNA tests proved this assertion false, and by October 2008 there were reports al-Absi had relocated to Syria. In January 2008, Fatah al-Islam released a new audiotape recorded by al-Absi recorded at an undisclosed location (Al-Sharq al-Awsat, January 15, 2008). In December 2008, reports emerged that al-Absi and two other members of al-Fatah were ambushed by Syrian security forces in the town of Jaramanah, near Damascus. Al-Absi was either killed or placed in detention (BBC, December 10, 2008).
Demonstrating “the strength of the mujahideen’s intelligence,” Assad al-Jihad 2 reconstructed al-Absi’s disappearance by saying al-Absi had left the Nahr al-Barid camp in September 2007 and moved to the Ain al-Hilwa refugee camp near Sidon. At this point Syria activated its agents in Lebanon, such as Shaykh Hisham Minqara (the leader of the Tawhid Movement, a pro-Hezbollah Sunni movement). A Syrian “spy” persuaded al-Absi to go to Damascus with a promise to help al-Absi get to Iraq. After several months of surveillance, Syrian security forces moved in to arrest al-Absi, resulting in an armed clash that took place in al-Muleha (not Jaramanah, as reported).
Furthermore, Assad al-Jihad 2 stated that al-Absi was then tortured and threatened with the rape of his daughter Wafa’a, who was arrested a few weeks after her father was detained. Assad al-Jihad 2 believes that Syrian president Bashar al-Assad is using al-Absi (“the most important prisoner in Syria”) to blackmail the United States and France, infiltrate the Qaeda-associated Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) and to prove the existence of organizational ties between Fatah al-Islam and al-Qaeda. Assad al-Jihad 2 concluded; “Shaykh Shaker has no organizational link with al-Qaeda or with the Islamic State of Iraq, even though it is an honor for the mujahedeen in every front [to have a person] such as Shaykh Shaker to be among them. I am saying if he says that he is connected to al-Qaeda, this will be because of torture.”
A few days later, a statement was released by Fatah al-Islam entitled “The Response of the Fatah al-Islam organization on the suspicions that brother Assad al-Jihad 2 raised about them” (Fatehalislam.blogspot.com, February 17; alfaloja.com, February 16). The statement claimed al-Absi retreated to al-Baddawi refugee camp after the Nahr al-Barid siege, not to Ain al-Hilwa. From there he made his way to Syria to rebuild his organization by reopening channels that had closed because of the Nahr al-Barid clashes. According to the group’s statement, the ISI was among these channels.
While the statement claimed that al-Absi went to Syria on his own and had not been won over by any “spy,” it also emphasized that Shaykh Hashim Minqara was not connected to al-Absi at that time. The statement also said that the armed clashes with Syrian security forces took place in Jaramanah, not in al-Muleha, and advised that the communications of Shaykh al-Absi with al-Qaeda existed through “brothers” in the ISI, using Shaykh Abu Hamza al-Muhajir (the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq and the ISI “Minister of War”) as the contact point.
At the conclusion of the question and answer session, Assad al-Jihad 2 pointed to the increasing importance of Salafi-Jihadis in the Levant region, as indicated by the recent trials in Jordan, Lebanon or Syria of members belonging to al-Qaeda-affiliated groups, as well as the increasing focus on the region found in the speeches of various jihadi leaders and ideologues (see, for instance, Osama bin Laden’s March 14 audiotape, entitled “Practical Steps to Liberate Palestine”).