BEIRUT: The Lebanese Army defector posted a video Wednesday announcing that he has joined Al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front, and his defection was due to Lebanese authorities’ alleged discrimination against Sunnis.
“I have split from the Lebanese Army because, like any other soldier, I know well that the Army is a tool in the hand of the Hizb,” Atef Mohammed Saadeddine said, referring the Lebanese Shiite party Hezbollah.
The solider initially went missing in the Bekaa Valley Monday evening, with local media reports saying he was kidnapped by the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front. Authorities later discovered that the soldier had left with the militants voluntarily.
A video was posted on Nusra Front's official YouTube channel Wednesday, allegedly showing an interview with Saadeddine, who spoke his reasons for splitting with Al-Nusra’s flag in the background.
Al-Nusra front, a Syrian branch of the multinational fundamentalist organization Al-Qaeda, had been fighting alongside the Free Syrian Army and other rebel groups for many years, fighting both against the Assad regime and now the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria.
Saadeddine, who presented his Lebanese Army ID, said his former institution takes orders from Hezbollah and discriminates against the Sunnis of Lebanon.
“When they build a checkpoint in a Sunni area, they suffocate it completely,” he said. “While in the southern suburb, they do not dare put any checkpoint, unless Hezbollah had given the order.”
He said that while Hezbollah didn’t fire “a single bullet toward Israel” after Gaza’s offensive, it had oriented its force against Lebanon’s Sunnis.
“What resistance are they talking about? Resistance against the Sunni people?” he asked.
Saadeddine said the detention of many Sunni youths and the bad conditions in which they were kept had also motivated him to split from the Army.
He alleged that the Army treats the Sunni sheikhs of Lebanon poorly, and “interrogates and physically abuse[s]” Sunnis stopped at their checkpoints, even among the wounded. This, he claimed, was another reason to leave the institution.
In the 6-minutes long video in which the former solider justified his defection, he also called on his former colleagues in the Army to take a similar step.
“Don’t think about the salary you are receiving at the end of the month, think about your religion. Because what happened to Syrians will happen to you; your parents, family and children will become homeless and you will live in tents,” Saadeddine said, addressing “soldiers and commanders” in the Army.
“Wake up, soldier, and think about your religion and your sect,” he added.
The short film ended with a slow-motion scene apparently showing other militants of the Nusra Front entering the frame to hug Saadeddine and kiss his forehead, with Quranic music in the background.
In the same vein, several March 14 MPs told The Daily Star Wednesday that at least 10 other soldiers have defected from the Lebanese Army to join the Syrian opposition.
Anonymously speaking ahead of a botched parliamentary session to elect a new president, the MPs said a commanding Lebanese Army officer was among the troops who chose to join the ranks of rebel groups fighting in Syria.
They accused authorities of imposing a news blackout on the “defection” until the Army had confirmed that the soldiers had fled.
Over the weekend, the Lebanese Army heavily deployed along the porous northeastern border with Syria and set up new posts in a number of villages in the Baalbek-Hermel region, including Arsal, to prevent rebels from infiltrating the country.
The move comes as the Syrian Army and Hezbollah tightened the noose on armed rebels in Qalamoun, a mountainous region bordering Lebanon.