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Tripoli Islamist groups on verge of conflict

  • A Salafist shouts slogans against Syrian President Bashar Assad during a protest in Tripoli.

TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Tensions have risen between Islamist groups in Tripoli, mirroring the deepening political divisions around the country and raising fears of a new eruption of violence.

Clashes between the various Islamist groups in Tripoli, divided between the March 8 and March 14 political movements, are on the rise.

Only Al-Jamaa al-Islamiya is still attempting to remain independent from the two political blocs by adopting a purely Islamist platform with its own stances regarding internal Lebanese politics and the crisis in Syria.

Since the assassination of March 14 figure and intelligence chief Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hasan in October, disputes between Islamist groups in Tripoli have been heading toward a major conflagration, particularly following the killing of Sheikh Abdel-Razzaq Asmar, an official from the Islamic Tawhid Movement, just hours after Hasan’s death.

The sheikh was shot dead in the Abi Samra neighborhood of Tripoli during an armed clash that erupted when supporters of Kanaan Naji, an independent Islamist figure associated with the National Islamist Gathering, attempted to take over the headquarters of the Islamic Tawhid Movement in the Saadoun Square.

The family of Asmar has filed a lawsuit accusing six individuals from the pro-March 14 National Islamic Gathering of the killing.

The National Islamic Gathering is comprised of a diverse group of followers, including March 14 supporters and Future Movement MPs Mohammad Kabbara and Khaled Daher, as well as independent Islamist figures such as Naji and Sheikh Raed Kabbara.

The group also draws supporters from the Bab al-Tabbaneh neighborhood. Among them is Amid Hammoud, who is rumored to be the head of the armed wings of pro-March 14 Islamist groups. Hammoud is one of those listed in the lawsuit accused of the direct killing of Asmar.

Shortly before the killing of Asmar, Sheikh Hashem Minqara, of the pro-March 8 Islamic Tawhid Movement, fled his mosque in the town of Mina, near Tripoli, following an armed clash.

Minqara’s departure amounted to a warning sign for all pro-March 8 figures that Sunni supporters of Hezbollah have become targets in Tripoli.

The Syrian Social Nationalist Party, a member of the March 8 alliance, has also evacuated its headquarters in Tripoli’s Gemmayzat neighborhood due to similar fears.

Despite the concerns, Sheikh Bilal Shaaban, secretary-general of the Islamic Tawhid Movement, has decided to remain in his offices in Abi Samra and support the Samra family’s decision to file a lawsuit.

Sheikh Bilal Diqmaq, an independent Islamist figure, lashed out at the Islamic Tawhid Movement for remaining in Tripoli and provoking its citizens.

“They [the Islamic Tawhid Movement] want to damage themselves by shedding light on issues that they have no business discussing,” he told The Daily Star Tuesday.

The movement “have recently filed a lawsuit against some people over the killing of Sheikh Abdel-Razzaq Samra. My message to them is you have no interest in filing this lawsuit,” Diqmaq added.

“I have nothing to do with this lawsuit but I call on them [the movement] to solve their problem with the residents of Abi Samra, Bab al-Tabbaneh and Qobbeh, because there is already tension in the streets [of Tripoli],” said the sheikh, who is not allied with the National Islamic Gathering but has espoused a position similar to that of the March 14-aligned group.

“I’m very sorry that in Tripoli there are some people considered to be Sunnis who at the same time stand by the side of the Syrian regime. [Sheikh] Hashem Minqara understood the conflict when he left Tripoli,” Diqmaq continued, indirectly calling on others to follow the example of Minqara and leave the city.

“They have the right to political action but they have no right to stand against the people of Tripoli,” he said.

Amid Hammoud could not be reached for comment and Jihad Moghrabi, one of the other figures known to be named in the lawsuit, refused to speak about the issue, saying that he belongs to Al-Jamaa al-Islamiya and adheres to the party’s independent stance.

A senior official from the Islamic Tawhid Movement, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that the group will stand behind the Samra family’s lawsuit.

“The family has the right to know how their son was killed. He went to the street to end a quarrel when an armed group took him [while he was] unarmed and shot him dead,” the official said.

The Islamic National Gathering held a meeting last week at the residence of MP Daher and called on the the Islamic Tawhid Movement to close its offices in Tripoli, a sign that tensions will continue to increase while the movement remains in the city.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 14, 2012, on page 4.
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