The Abdullah Azzam Brigades and the Al Nusrah Front in Lebanon have claimed joint responsibility for rocket attacks on Hezbollah’s “strongholds.” On March 8, both groups published the same statement claiming credit for the attacks on their respective Twitter feeds.
The six Grad rockets “targeted strongholds of the Party of Iran [Hezbollah] in the Lebanese area of Hermel … in response to the Party of Iran killing our people in Syria and continuing to oppress our people in Lebanon especially our brothers the prisoners,” the statement reads. The statement was first obtained and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.
The war in Syria has led to a string of attacks against Iranian interests in Lebanon. Hezbollah is backed by the Iranian government and Bashar al Assad’s regime.
The Al Nusrah Front is al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria and has expanded its operations into Lebanon and throughout the Levant. The Abdullah Azzam Brigades was established by terrorists with ties to al Qaeda’s senior leadership, as well as al Qaeda in Iraq.
The two al Qaeda-affiliated groups have launched rocket attacks on Hezbollah positions in Hermel on three occasions since December 2013, according to SITE. Hermel is located close to the Syrian border in the Bekaa Valley, which is dominated by Hezbollah.
On Feb. 19, two suicide bombers from the Abdullah Azzam Brigades attacked the Iranian cultural center in Beirut, killing five people and wounding more than a dozen more. The group issued a statement on March 7 saying that an “error” during the bomb detonations led to the deaths of civilians. The statement showed a clear sensitivity to civilian casualties, stressing that the al Qaeda-linked group’s “war” is with Hezbollah and that “its interests … are legitimate targets.”
On Jan. 16, the Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in Hermel on its Twitter feed. The attack took place near a government building. Another Al Nusrah Front suicide bomber struck a gas station in Hermel on Feb. 1.
Iran’s cultural attache and 22 others were killed during a suicide bombing by the Abdullah Azzam Brigades outside of the Iranian embassy in Beirut on Nov. 19, 2013.
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (ISIS), which has been disowned by al Qaeda’s general command, has also carried out attacks in Lebanon. The group claimed responsibility for the Jan. 2 car bombing in Beirut, which killed four people and wounded more than 70 others.
Blowback, of sorts
According to the US Treasury and State Departments, the Iranian regime continues to allow al Qaeda to operate a “core pipeline” on Iranian soil despite their divergent interests in Syria.
“Al Qaeda’s network in Iran has facilitated the transfer of funds from Gulf-based donors to al Qaeda core and other affiliated elements, including the al Nusrah Front in Syria,” Treasury stated in a terrorist designation on Feb. 6. “The Iran based al Qaeda network has also leveraged an extensive network of Kuwaiti jihadist donors to send money to Syria via Turkey.”
It is not clear why the Iranians would allow senior al Qaeda operatives to support the Al Nusrah Front while that group also launches attacks on Iran’s and Hezbollah’s interests in Lebanon.
The Abdullah Azzam Brigades has also operated inside Iran, although it is not known if the organization is still active inside the country. Saleh al Qarawi, one of the brigades’ first leaders, based his operations inside Iran for a time.
Qarawi was added to Saudi Arabia’s most wanted list in early 2009. Contemporaneous State Department cables, which were leaked to the public, noted that Qarawi had “received explosives training in Iran.” The cable does not say the Iranians provided the training.
Citing a Saudi security official, The New York Times reported in February 2009 that “Qarawi is in charge of leading Al Qaeda’s operations in the Persian Gulf and Iran, and of bringing new members into Afghanistan.” Qarawi was also “believed to have more than 100 Saudis working for him in Iran, where they move about freely, the official added.”
[For more on the Abdullah Azzam Brigades’ al Qaeda ties and relationship with Iran, see LWJ report: Abdullah Azzam Brigades claims credit for attack on Iranian embassy.]
There have been conflicting accounts regarding Qarawi’s fate. According to jihadist sources on social media, Qarawi was badly wounded in a US drone strike in northern Pakistan at some point. He was then allowed to return to his native Saudi Arabia, where he is reportedly in custody.
In June 2012, the leader of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades released a statement calling on Syrians to support the effort to topple Bashar Assad’s regime. The statement, from Majid bin Muhammad al Majid, was distributed by the Al Fajr Media Center, which disseminates al Qaeda’s propaganda.