Lebanon sees rise in sectarian violence
BEIRUT – Sunni militants subscribing to al-Qaida-style ideologies appear to have expanded their operations into Lebanon, heightening worries that soon this country will be engulfed in the kind of sectarian warfare now engulfing Syria and Iraq.
A series of arrests and suicide car bombings already had raised tensions. But separate announcements over the weekend by two major jihadist groups active in Syria about operations in Lebanon pushed them even higher.
Lebanon has seen at least six suicide attacks in the past six months against targets associated either with the government or with the Shiite militant group Hezbollah. Authorities believe Hezbollah’s support for Syrian President Bashar Assad drove the attacks, three of which were claimed by al-Qaida groups battling to topple Assad: one by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and two by the Nusra Front.
On Saturday, the Islamic State announced that it had designated a previously known militant from the northern city of Tripoli, Abu Sayyaf al-Ansari, as official leader for operations in Lebanon and promised an “announcement” in coming days, which many in Lebanon believe is a threat of impending attacks.
For its part, the Nusra Front warned Lebanese Sunnis not to “gather in areas controlled by the Party of Satan,” a common Sunni euphemism for Hezbollah, because these areas would be targeted for attack. The statement was seen by the United States, which denounced it, as a threat against Shiite Muslims.