BEIRUT: Challenging Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s remarks that Lebanon is Al-Qaeda-free, Baath Party MP Assem Qanso has said the Islamist organization has infiltrated a number of extremist groups in Lebanon.
“Al-Qaeda has infiltrated more than 20 fundamentalist organizations that [share similar ideologies to Al-Qaeda],” Qanso said in remarks published Monday by pan-Arab Ash-Sharq Al-Awsat.
Defense Minister Fayez Ghosn said last month that Al-Qaeda militants were sneaking into Lebanon under the guise of Syrian dissidents.
Ghosn’s statement has thrown Mikati’s government, already torn apart by sharp differences over many key issues, into disarray after both the prime minister and Interior Minister Marwan Charbel rejected the claims of the presence of Al-Qaeda militants in Lebanon.
Qanso said Salafi movements in north Lebanon and several areas in the eastern Bekaa Valley have provided “fertile ground” for the spread of Al-Qaeda in Lebanon.
He said the Salafis also helped Al-Qaeda members infiltrate into Homs, Al-Qusair and Tal Kalakh in Syria “to fight in order to weaken Syria in an attempt to topple it.”
The Baath Party lawmaker, a close ally of Damascus in Lebanon, said Al-Qaeda began to build its strength in Lebanon under the name of Fatah al-Islam from the time of the incidents at the northern Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp in 2007. It then moved under the name of Jund al-Sham and Abdullah Qassam Brigades in the Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp in south Lebanon, he added.
Qanso said “some” residents in the border Bekaa town of Arsal had set up a small town in the Christian area known as Mashareeh.
A mosque and a mobile clinic set up by Arsal residents were designed to provide Al-Qaeda easy access to Syria, he added.
Qanso also accused Future Movement MP Khaled Daher, a fervent critic of Damascus over its crackdown on reform-seeking protesters, of being involved in the unrest in Syria, “given that one of his bodyguards was killed in Homs a few days ago.”
He expressed concerns that once the “Syrian revolution” is over, Al-Qadea militants would flourish in Lebanon.
“If Syria falls, the last resistance bastion will turn into a state similar to that of Egypt or Libya and will become a breeding ground for Salafis and [Muslim Brotherhood],” Qanso said.
“In that case Hezbollah would be affected and Hamas and the Palestinian cause would be dissolved.”
Meanwhile, a high-ranking security source insisted Al-Qaeda was not operating in Lebanon.
“There is no Al-Qaeda presence in Lebanon at all,” the source told Ash-Sharq Al-Awsat.
“Lebanon is no longer an open arena and its security is no longer slack,” he said, adding that Lebanese territory is also “no longer a base or corridor for any terrorist group.”
Tripoli-based Salafist sheikh Bilal Diqmaq hit back at Qanso, describing as “inaccurate” accusations that the Salafi movement was harboring Al-Qaeda militants.
“It is true that we share some beliefs and doctrines with Al-Qaeda ... but we disagree with [Al-Qaeda] in applying the political Jihadist policy in the Arab countries,” Diqmaq told Ash-Sharq Al-Awsat.