From the Archives
What is unique about bin Laden's influence in Lebanon is that it has appeared to evolve with the tacit approval of Syria and its satellite regime in Beirut.
Put simply, Syria has demonstrated a remarkable ability to infiltrate, uncover, and eliminate underground dissident movements in Lebanon, much as it has in Syria itself. To the extent that the above groups and persons have been able to operate freely in Lebanon, it is because Syria has permitted them to do so. The massive amounts of weaponry accumulated by the Tafkir wa al-Hijra rebels and their training camps in the mountains east of Tripoli, for example, could not have escaped the attention of Syrian intelligence. That Abu Mohjen and other suspected terrorists in Ain al-Hilweh have not been arrested despite outstanding warrants for their arrest is a conspicuous case of Syrian interference.
In discussions with Western diplomats, Syrian officials frequently claim that the withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon will result in an outburst of civil war (the implication being that, just as the civil war during 1980s provided a safe haven for anti-American terror groups, future civil unrest in Lebanon will provide an outlet for extremists to organize attacks against the US). But this claim is only credible so long as bona fide terrorist groups continue to operate in what the Lebanese call "pockets of insecurity." Usbat al-Ansar and other extremist groups will seize upon the withdrawal of Syrian forces, the reasoning goes, and create chaos throughout the country.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The 60,000 strong Lebanese army is more than capable of maintaining security throughout the country after a Syrian withdrawal (unless, as many Lebanese expect, Damascus covertly arms these groups so as to provide a pretext for the return of Syrian military forces). At the very least, the Lebanese army is capable of moving into these "pockets of insecurity." But Syria will not allow it. (Emphasis added in bold.)
I'd say much of this proved prescient, to a large degree (and I would note how Syria's allies, including Hezbollah, attempted to play the old Syrian role and tried to prevent the Army from going after Fateh al-Islam). I would also add, as I have before, Syrian proxies who are also open al-Qaeda supporters, like Fathi Yakan, who I am convinced had a significant role in the foiled plot in the north. Note also how Hezbollah's operational mastermind, Imad Mughniyeh, is correctly listed in the piece as having ties with al-Qaeda. This is yet another item to add to what was mentioned in my earlier post.
Addendum: A propos, I spotted this graph in an otherwise typical piece in the pro-Hezbollah, pro-Syrian al-Akhbar:
أكّدت مصادر مطلعة على سير التحقيقات القضائية لـ«الأخبار» أن مرعي، الذي كان مطلوباً للقضاء اللبناني، كان قبل عام 2005 يتمتّع بتغطية سورية سمحت له بالبقاء حراً، بسبب علاقته ووالده بالمخابرات السورية في الشمال
Sources with knowledge of the ongoing investigation confirmed to al-Akhbar that Mer'i, who was wanted by the Lebanese judiciary, enjoyed before 2005 a Syrian cover that allowed him to remain free, because of his father's ties to Syrian intelligence in the north.
I had posted about the Mer'i brothers, Syrian intelligence, Fateh Islam and al-Qaeda here.