The deaths of young Lebanese Islamists, slain in an ambush set by the Syrian army in the town of Talkalakh, are still shrouded in mystery. The men left Tripoli on Friday [Nov. 30] at dawn and crossed the Lebanese-Syrian border in pursuit of jihad alongside the armed opposition [in Syria]. The group included about 30 people.
There are conflicting reports about the final death toll. While Lebanese security sources initially reported more than 20 young men killed in the ambush, MP Khaled Daher said that "only four mujahedeen were martyred, while the others fled — some of whom are injured — to an unknown destination."
Informed sources from the north suspected that 16 young men from the group have been killed. According to official Syrian media outlets, however, about 21 Lebanese were killed and wounded in the said ambush.
These conflicting reports have increased the level of confusion plaguing the ranks of the bereaved families. They have begun to hold funerals and publish obituaries for their children. Reports about the presence of a large number of survivors of the ambush led these parents to back down and remove the obituaries.
Moreover, Ahmed Srour (brother of Hussein and Hassan Srour) announced that his family received a call from Hassan telling them that "he is still alive," thus bolstering the parents’ hopes. In addition, the Ayoubi family said that they received a call from an anonymous source telling them that "their son Abdul Rahman is still alive, shot and in good hands."
In the meantime, an atmosphere of caution is still prevailing in Tripoli, especially in the areas of Jabal Mohsen, Tebbaneh, al-Qobba and al-Mankoobin, where parents set up a sit-in tent to demand answers about their children’s fate. Exceptional security measures were taken by the Lebanese army amid rumors swirling around the city. [There is a sense that] another outbreak of another round of violence is imminent following the end of the memorial service of the Martyr Maj. Gen. Wissam al-Hassan.
In a related development, anonymous people sent pictures of some of those killed in the Talkalakh ambush through phone messages containing harsh sectarian messages, which sparked further tension and raised the level of anger and fear among parents.
Obviously, there a lot of missing links in the logical sequence of this issue. One thing is certain though: About 30 young Islamic men from different parts of Tripoli, al-Mankoobin and Akkar went to Syria to fight against the regime and they were felled in an ambush set by the regime in Talkalakh, which also led to injuries among their ranks.
To find the missing links, one has to first find answers to a lot of questions. Chief among these are the following: What group do these young men belong to? And what is its nature? Who encouraged them to do such a thing? Who was responsible for coordinating them? Who sent them? Who met them at the border? Why did they fall victim to the ambush? Is it because of their lack of military experience or due to their lack of knowledge of the geography of the region? Where they betrayed or did they fall victim to the work of an intelligence or security apparatus?
The way fighters left to seek "jihad" in Syria is very similar to what happened in early 2000 — despite differences in destination, purpose and political conditions — when a large number of Islamist “jihadists” from Tripoli traveled to Jrood al-Dinniyeh for weapons training, etc. This was followed by military confrontations between them and the Lebanese army. At the time, the Lebanese army managed to eliminate them and detain those who survived in the town of Kfar Habou. This is now known as the Dinniyeh events.
This is also similar to when Islamic jihadist elements from the Fatah al-Islam organization were grouped in apartments in Tripoli in preparation for a security operation that was being prepared for the city in 2007. Back then, the army and the security forces carried out a raid on al-Miatayn street and the al-Zahrieh district, thus eliminating them. subsequently, the army and security forces devoted themselves to dismantling the structure of this organization in the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp in "the 106-Day War."
The questions raised by those in Tripoli, many of whom are still shocked and in a state of grief over the way these young people were killed, are the following: Why involve their city in the Syrian crisis? Who is the beneficiary of such an act? Can this vast city tolerate the implications and repercussions of what happened? Did the ambush persuade those concerned of the futility of sending fighters to Syria? Will they give up on such adventures? Will political and sectarian incitement — which increased tension among the young people — stop?
People closely following the situation in Tripoli said that the state of political and ideological incitement, which has been ongoing for months, led to the creation of a favorable environment for the growth of some Islamic "jihad" cases, especially in populous areas. In addition, there are those who took advantage of this environment and worked to recruit young men and randomly send them to Syria through non-professional smugglers.
These sources reveal that young groups went to Syria a few months ago in the same way and were subject to various kinds of torture without being able to fight or join any opposition faction. They say that these factions need moral and arms support rather than combat elements. Thus, these fighters went back to Tripoli.
Many insiders also confirm that a large number of young men who joined the last group had previously expressed their wish to join the jihad in Syria. However, some clerics prevented them from doing so, assuring them that joining the ranks of jihad in Syria will have no affect whatsoever on the opposition’s work there.
What do the victims’ families say about this situation?
This inflammatory atmosphere has become a great source of concern for many families in Tripoli. They fear for their children and have begun monitoring their moves. The families of the young men who were killed in the ambush did not have the slightest idea that they went to Syria or even had been planning to do so. They were anxious when their offspring did not return home in time. They were even shocked when they learned the news that some of their children were killed and others wounded or detained.
In this context, Luqman Ayoubi (the uncle of Abdul Rahman Ayoubi) told As-Safir: “We did not know what Abdul Rahman wanted to do. We were surprised when we he sneaked his personal belongings out of the house and left on Thursday night, as soon as he finished work with his father at the butcher shop.” Ayoubi was confident when he said that his nephew does not belong to any organization or group. “He is a devout young Muslim who goes to the mosques and attends Islamic teaching sessions,” he said.
Ayoubi demanded the state “to reveal the identity of the smugglers and those inciting our sons.” He confirmed that “the family received an anonymous call telling them that Abdul Raham was wounded but doing fine and is in good hands.”
Moreover, Ahmed Srour confirmed to As-Safir that “both his siblings, Hassan and Hussein, are not affiliated with any political organization or religious movement. Everyone was surprised when they heard their names among those who died in the ambush.”
The environment and ideology
From what environment do these young men hail from and what is their ideology?
According to the information obtained by As-Safir, most of the young men come from areas in Tripoli and the north in general. They come from different social classes. Some belong to middle class families, while others are less fortunate or poor. However, most of them work in a variety of occupations. They were not jobless.
Those who knew the young victims said they were devout Muslims, performed the five daily prayers in mosques and were keen to attend religious courses. They also took part in activities in support of the Syrian opposition and had high morals and good reputations. The young men did not appear to be to able to take up arms, or even to have undergone previous military training.
Thus, it is clear that religious observance is the only common bond between the men. Some believe that social networking sites served as a fundamental link between them. They were influenced by slogans of the “holy jihad” in Syria. These young men were the victims of certain parties who managed to draw them to their side after sensing that they had a tendency towards jihad.
Regarding the young men’ ideologies, two prominent Salafist sheikhs, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, gave their opinion to As-Safir.
One of the Salafist sheikhs believes that “the young Lebanese men are Islamists, who are strongly influenced by some jihadist symbols such as Osama Bin Laden and Jordanian terrorist Omar Ibn al Khattab. However, they do not belong to al-Qaeda or any other jihadist movement. Each one of them has his own behavior and approach that is different from the others. They are not bound by any common secret organization, but rather by a common concept and goal. They all seek to join the jihad in Syria against the Syrian regime. They were provoked by the daily news about massacres committed against civilians.
“I firmly believe that they headed to Syria impulsively, without prior preparations. Their mission was not organized, except for internal coordination on where to meet and how to move. The proof of this is that they entered unsafe zones that are under the Syrian regime’s control. If they were affiliated with another group, they would have entered from other areas and gone to safe regions,” he added.
The other sheikh believes that “the young men had dogmatic jihadist beliefs and their motive was purely religious. They were convinced that Syria has become the land of jihad and it is their sacred duty to go fight in the name of God against the oppressive regime.”
He added that these young people do not “serve the revolution at all.” The sheikh also said that “sending fighters from Lebanon, whether to fight alongside the regime or the opposition, poses a major threat to the security and stability of our country.”
The ambush was the result of either a foolish move or treason, stressing that their amateur move into the Syrian territories resulted in their deaths. The sheikh strongly criticized “those who are inciting young Lebanese men and sending them on the road to perdition, while they remain safe and sound at home. What happened is very similar to the incidents of Dinniyeh where young men were sent to die for nothing.”