IN LEBANON AL QAEDA AWAKENS

Until recently, Al Qaeda had not been a major player or a serious threat, in Lebanon, an arena of sectarian warfare by armed groups for decades.

But these days, with the jihadists fighting in neighbouring syria becoming more powerful by the week, the organisation is gaining strength in Lebanon too.

Security sources say the jihadists are expected at some point to declare the formation of a new wing affiliated to Jabhat Al Nusra, or the Al Nusra front, that’s spearheading the hard-line sunni islamists fighting the Damascus regime of President Bashar Assad.

The jihadists in Lebanon are concentrated mainly in Palestinian refugee camps, where the security forces cannot deploy, and are openly fighting alongside sunni militants in the northern port city of Tripoli against pro-Assad Alawites in what has become a proxy battleground of the syrian conflict.

Jihadists have been active in Lebanon, in the north particularly, since the late 1990s.

In 2007, one group known as Fatah Al Islam battled the Lebanese army for three months in Tripoli’s Nahr Al bared refugee camp before being overwhelmed after fierce house-to-house fighting.

After 105 days of battle, the camp was left in ruins. nearly 500 people perished, including 168 soldiers and 226 militants. Another 215 militants were captured, but several of their leaders remain at large.

Al Qaeda flags, rarely seen in Lebanon, have been spotted with growing regularity at protests and marches in sunni districts of west beirut that once denounced the Shi’ite Hizbullah in recent weeks.

The fear is that Hizbullah, whose forces are fighting in Syria to support Assad, may soon find itself having to battle sunni jihadists in lebanon as well in a showdown that has been long in the making.