Al-Nusra Front was formed in Syria in 2011. It rapidly grew into the most prominent of all the country’s armed opposition groups once it was joined by like-minded former members of the Lebanese-based groups Jund al-Sham and Fatah al-Islam.
In March 2012, a group led by Majed Bin-Mohammed al-Majed, Saudi emir or “commander” of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, moved from the Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp in South Lebanon to Syria.
Their intended aim was to take over the leadership of al-Nusra Front, and replace its commander, known as Abu-Mohammed al-Joulani, with Majed. But once in Syria, many of his followers turned against him and sided with Joulani. He returned to Ain al-Hilweh.
Meanwhile, the ex-members of Fatah al-Islam and Jund al-Sham got on with the task of training and organizing Joulani’s men. Within a few months they managed to improve al-Nusra Front’s performance and organization, turning it into the most formidable armed faction in Syria and an important front for al-Qaeda’s global jihad.
Al-Nusra Front’s Reach in Lebanon
Currently, about a year and half since its launch, the Front has a network of associated groups based in Lebanon. Its members come from a variety of different countries, which provide it with logistical, material, and combat support, especially in its battles in the vicinities of Homs and Damascus.
These Lebanese groups have plans to merge militarily and organizationally into a unified Lebanese chapter of al-Nusra Front. Dergham’s group is the most closely associated with the plan. Based around Ersal, it provides extensive logistical support to al-Nusra Front.
The rise of Islamist forces with an ideological affinity to al-Qaeda was aided by the declining influence of Fatah and the other Palestinian nationalist factions in Ain al-Hilweh. Their involvement in the Syrian jihad has bolstered support for their extremist views. This is at the expense of Hamas’ Usbat al-Ansar, to whom they previously used to defer in exchange for protection.
One proposal, espoused by Sabbagh, is to establish a single Islamic emirate spanning from North Lebanon to the Homs countryside. Another suggestion is to mount a series of surprise actions in different parts of Lebanon, with the aim of suddenly raising security tensions throughout the country, and announcing: We’re here, our time has come.
Reports indicate that the organizational steps needed to form the merged Lebanese al-Nusra Front are complete, but the Front is awaiting the right political circumstances for its launch.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.
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