The Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria, continues to use hostages in its custody as bartering chips in its negotiations with the Lebanese government. The group captured Lebanese soldiers and policemen in August, and has executed some of them in its standoff with the government.
Al Nusrah’s propaganda explaining its hostage campaign has focused on the influence of Iran and Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed terrorist group, in Lebanon and Syria. In particular, Al Nusrah is trying to incite Sunnis in Lebanon to rise up against the Shiite forces by portraying them as the aggressors.
Al Nusrah says the families of the hostages should blame the Iranian axis for the executions of their sons, because it is Iran, through its proxies, that is refusing to negotiate. The al Qaeda branch is also attempting to tie the fate of its hostages to the plight of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, thereby portraying itself as the guardian of the Sunni populace. Lebanon has experienced a massive influx of refugees since the beginning of the Syrian war.
In a statement released on one of its Twitter feeds on Sept. 29, the Al Nusrah Front claimed that Lebanon’s general security services had agreed to turn over 10 Syrian refugees to Bashar al Assad’s regime.
“We warn of a deal that has been reached and of its ramifications on the general security services and its chief, who is under the sway of the Iranian party,” meaning Hezbollah, the statement reads.
The Lebanese government immediately denied that it had agreed to turn over the refugees to the Syrian regime, adding that Sunni jihadists had attempted to assassinate general security chief Abbas Ibrahim four times in the past two years.
According to The Daily Star, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, the Al Nusrah Front, and the Islamic State have been behind these attempts as they try to “push Lebanon into a similar chaotic situation” as “that of Syria and Iraq.”
The Abdullah Azzam Brigades is an al Qaeda-linked group that has taken part in joint operations with Al Nusrah inside Lebanon. The Islamic State was once a branch of al Qaeda, but was disowned by al Qaeda’s general command earlier this year and has fought against Al Nusrah inside Syria.
In its statement on Sept. 29, Al Nusrah went on to claim that the Lebanese government was “lying” to the families of its hostages. The group said it had “declared a halt to the negotiations until the issues of Arsal have been completely resolved” and there has been “no progress in the negotiations.” Lebanese security forces fought against Al Nusrah and the Islamic State in Arsal, Lebanon in early August.
The al Qaeda branch claims it does not want to kill any more of the hostages, but the Lebanese government is forcing its hand by “increasing the pressure” on Syrian refugees. This is allegedly part of a “trap,” Al Nusrah says, that is intended to demonstrate that the jihadist organization is the one responsible for “disrupting the negotiations.”
The Lebanese government is “steered by the Iranian party [Hezbollah],” Al Nusrah argues, and the people need “to stop this government in its tracks.”
In a separate statement released via Twitter earlier today, Al Nusrah denied Lebanese media reports that it had agreed not to execute any more of its hostages.
The Lebanese government “continues to arrest and torture” Sunnis in Lebanon, the statement reads, while Iran and Hezbollah continue to murder and bomb Sunnis in Syria. Nothing has changed since the hostages were first captured, Al Nusrah says, and there will be no deal until certain prisoners are released and the fate of the refugees in Arsal is resolved.
The Lebanese army has raided refugee camps in Arsal, claiming that it is tracking down members of the Al Nusrah Front and other jihadists who have been living there. Al Nusrah is trying to tap into the resentment caused by those raids.
Similar to the Al Nusrah Front, other parts of al Qaeda’s international network are attempting to build popular support for the Sunni jihadists’ ideology by focusing on Iranian influence.
For instance, Sheikh Nasser bin Ali al Ansi, a top official in al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), recently released a video in which he connected the war in Yemen to the conflicts in Iraq and Syria. Houthi rebels, backed by Iran, have made substantial gains in recent weeks. Thus, according to al Ansi, “Iranian agents” are the common enemy across these jihadist theaters.