Fighterne fra Fatah al-Islam kommer til å kjempe til siste slutt. De er overbevist om at verdens muslimer vil reise seg når de ser hva som skjer.
Friends in Beirut say Shakir al-Abssi, 49, started his political career as a member of Yasser Arafat’s secular Fatah movement in the Palestine Liberation Organisation; then he broke away and joined a movement called Fatah al-Intifada [Uprising], moving to Damascus, the Syrian capital, with other rebels.
Later he returned to Beirut and lived in the Shatila Palestinian refugee camp with his wife, daughter and two sons. He made little impression. Friends say he was more religious than most, and proud, but no extremist.
At some point he became inspired by the ideology of Osama Bin Laden and made an alliance with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a fellow Jordanian who led Al-Qaeda in Iraq until he was killed by US forces last year.
Abssi was charged in Jordan along with Zarqawi over the murder of Laurence Foley, an American diplomat, who was shot in Amman in 2002. In absentia Abssi was sentenced to death.
By then he was in prison in Syria, only to be mysteriously released and allowed to cross into northern Lebanon where he rejoined the ranks of Fatah al-Intifada. It wasn’t radical enough for him, so last year Abssi and other militants split away and created Fatah al-Islam, publishing a statement of intent on jihadist websites.
«Know that our goal is fighting the Jews and all those who support them from the Zionist Crusaders of the West in order to liberate our sacred land,» their open letter announced. It urged Muslims to join its ranks and training camps.
A small group of Fatah al-Islam followers surfaced in the Beddawi refugee camp in northern Lebanon, but was ejected by the camp authorities. They moved on to Nahr al-Bared nearby where they seized three breeze-block buildings from Fatah al-Intifada.
Abssi raised the group’s black flag and declared he was going to bring religion to the Palestinians and fight in the global jihad espoused by Al-Qaeda. He began training fighters and, camp residents say, by last week had a group of about 250, mostly nonPalestinians. Among them were Saudis, Syrians, Yemenis, and Algerians. «We could tell from their accents,» one camp resident said.
They are thought to have entered Lebanon either via Beirut airport, where Gulf residents are often waved through, or across the Syrian border, legally or illegally.
They had amassed powerful weaponry, probably smuggled in from Syria. The crisis erupted last Sunday when the Lebanese Internal Security Forces (ISF) mounted a dawn raid on a flat in the nearby port town of Tripoli, chasing what they thought were bank robbers. The men inside were members of Fatah al-Islam, and in the ensuing gun battle many security agents as well as militants died.
Whatever the precise backing of Fatah al-Islam, its leader speaks in the global jihadist language of Al-Qaeda.
He told The Sunday Times recently: «Muslim people from any part of the world will not be able to witness their people being killed and not take action in return.»
A Palestinian source said last week that Abssi’s son-in-law, married to his only daughter, was killed fighting in Iraq 12 days ago. He said the group considered him a martyr who would go directly to heaven because he had died fighting the American occupation forces.
Yesterday there was no sign to an end of the stand-off at Nahr al-Bared. The once-bustling camp appeared devastated, with cars and shops torched, buildings shattered and the narrow streets and alleys strewn with wreckage, glass and dead rats. About 20,000 Palestinian civilians remained, unwilling or unable to leave.
Lebanese soldiers had reinforced the perimeter and taken up ambush positions in the orange groves. On Friday, five cargoes of weapons arrived for the Lebanese army – one from the US, two from the United Arab Emirates, and two from Jordan.
However, there was little sign the Fatah al-Islam fanatics would go quietly. They had left their buildings and were living in the narrow, potholed streets, sleeping and eating in shifts. Most were dressed in Afghan-style clothing, with belts of bullets swaddling their bodies, according to Sophie Amara, an Arab journalist working for France 24 in Lebanon who managed to infiltrate the camp and get out again safely.
Amara said she met many Saudis along with Syrians, Yemenis, Algerians, and Pakistanis among the fighters. They were using a captured United Nations pickup truck to broadcast fiery sermons. «One bearded man yelled over the microphone, ‘Allahu akbar [God is great]’ and gave a long, ugly prayer, shouting for the need to follow the path of jihad,» Amara said.
«They told me they will not surrender, they said they will fight to the last bullet.»