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
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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