Lebanon: army clashes with al-Qaeda?

Lebanese security forces fought militants linked to al-Qaeda in the northern city of Tripoli and at the adjacent Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared early May 20, leaving at least 10 dead, including four police. Witnesses said gunmen from the Fatah al-Islam faction seized Lebanese army positions at the entrance to the camp, then moved out to roads leading to the city and ambushed a military unit. Army reinforcement were called in and fighting spread. The attack may have been a reaction to a police raid on a Tripoli apartment that morning. Police were looking for suspects in a bank robbery a day earlier in Amyoun, a town southeast of Tripoli, in which gunmen made off with $125,000 in cash. The militants resisted arrest and a gunbattle ensued.

In April, a Lebanese soldier was killed in a shootout with Fatah al-Islam gunmen at the edge of Nahr al-Bared, a camp of 30,000 refugees. Lebanon’s government also blamed Fatah al-Islam for a bus bombing in February in the Christian heartland northeast of Beirut that killed three.

The group is an offshoot of the Fatah Uprising which broke from the mainstream Fatah faction in the early 1980s. Fatah al-Islam is said to be ideologically close to the al-Qaeda network. By longstanding convention, Lebanon’s army and police do not enter the country’s 12 refugee camps, leaving security there to Palestinian groups. (Alalam, Iran, May 20)

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