After three months of relative security, Lebanon has been rocked by two car bombs in just four days, the second hitting a checkpoint near Tayyouneh in Beirut late Monday night while locals were watching a World Cup match.
On Friday, a suicide bomber detonated himself near a checkpoint in Dahr al Baydar, on a road that links Beirut to the Bekaa Valley and the Syrian border. Also on Friday, a hotel in the tourist-friendly Hamra district was raided with local media claiming they arrested operatives from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), an Islamist extremist group that gained prominence fighting in Syria and made international news earlier this month with a storm operation through large parts of Iraq.
Linking the events may lead some to believe that ISIS is behind the attacks and is expanding its operations to Lebanon. ISIS has claimed previous suicide operations in Lebanon, particularly in Beirut’s southern suburbs, but the operations came to a halt in March of this year following a security crackdown by the Lebanese Army and other security agencies.
Shiite militant and political movement, in cooperation with the Syrian regime, undertook an operation to win back Syrian towns along the Lebanese border in order to cease the string of suicide bombings in Lebanon. The bombings stopped, but many analysts believe that operatives from various Syrian opposition and Islamist groups took shelter in Lebanon.
A security source, speaking anonymously since he wasn’t given permission to speak to the media, said that these operatives fled the Syrian border with Lebanon and have now dispersed throughout the country, holing up in places like border villages, mountainous regions mostly, though some may have gone as far as places like Akkar and Tripoli, in north Lebanon.
And now after just a few months of peace and quiet, the bombs are back.
“…cutting off bombings was never going to be permanent,” was part of a tweet from Charles Lister, a visiting fellow at Brookings Doha Center who closely follows the Syrian crisis and its repercussions in neighboring countries.
In regard to the role ISIS plays however, Dr. Haytham Mouzahem, an expert on Islamist movements said it was “too soon to speculate.”
While not directly accusing who might be behind the attacks though, he said that “the maestro is one and the players are multiple.”
Military prosecutor Saqr Saqr ordered an investigation to get under way. Until it comes back with results it will be hard to say who is behind the attacks. That being said, ISIS has quickly released claims when it was involved in attacks in the past, as have other Islamist extremist groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, or Fatah al-Islam.
Friday’s raid however did include a French national recruited by ISIS to perform a suicide attack, according to Lebanon’s The Daily Star. There have also been claims by local figures in Lebanon’s northern city of Tripoli that certain Islamist and Salafi figures are working with ISIS or at least afford their sympathy to the extremists.
ISIS fingerprints may or may not be on the bomb blast; this is currently unclear. But ISIS has made its presence felt by Lebanon in the past and is likely to do so in the future, if Friday’s hotel raid and the subsequent bombings experienced over the last week are anything to go by.SHOW MORE