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Lebanon: al-Nusra Front demands Jumana Hamid’s release Open in fullscreen

Thaer Ghandour

Lebanon: al-Nusra Front demands Jumana Hamid’s release

The Lebanese army has been fighting in Arsal [Getty].

Date of publication: 12 August, 2014

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The armed group is gaining support by painting itself as less brutal than the Islamic State group

Do you remember Jumana Hamid? Last February, she was caught by the Lebanese army driving a car with a bomb in it. The car also had two female passengers who were later released due to lack of evidence against them. Hamid, however, remains in prison. She would allegedly collect car bombs from the barren lands between Qalamoun and Arsal along the north-east Lebanese-Syrian border, and deliver them to suicide bombers in Beirut.


The al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State group (IS, formerly known as ISIS) are demanding that Hamid and Abu Ahmed Joumaa are released in exchange for the Lebanese soldiers recently abducted in Arsal. Joumaa was commander of the Fajr al-Islam Brigade who pledged allegiance to the IS group, and wh

     The interests of the IS group and the Syrian regime often converge

ose arrest by the Lebanese army in early August 2014 sparked further fighting in Arsal.


The two Islamist organisations delivered their demands to the team chosen by the Muslim Scholars’ Association (MSA) to negotiate for the soldiers’ release. The MSA has been tasked by the government to lead talks. These demands have not yet been agreed to by Lebanese officials. The MSA had to select a new team, after the previous team’s leader, Sheikh Salem al-Rafei, was injured during the talks. The negotiators are trying to reach concessions from the abductors, especially concerning Hamid’s release, which would be highly controversial in Lebanon.


Making the deal


General Abbas Ibrahim, general director of Lebanese public security, has been taking part in the negotiations since their start, along with Abu Talal, Joumaa’s deputy. According to Abu Talal, Ibrahim has offered to release Joumaa in exchange for the abducted soldiers.


Ibrahim has worked with abductors before and was involved in negotiations to release 13 nuns abducted from the town of Maaloula in Syria in December 2013. These negotiations were successful, despite last minute demands from the kidnappers for the Iraqi Saga al-Dulaimi and her children to be released. Dulaimi was released, and later identified as the wife of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Islamic State group’s self-styled “caliph”.


Al-Nusra’s behaviour during the Battle of Arsal showed it is a smarter and more dangerous incarnation of al-Qaeda. In comparison, IS is a bloodier form that shows no concern for civilians, as noted in Arsal, Syria, and Iraq.


When examining events during the Battle of Arsal, the following points should be considered:


1-                  The Lebanese army was not prepared for such a confrontation. They seriously lacked intelligence information, including the fact that someone, presumably in the army, wanted soldiers to be abducted. Additionally, despite people in Arsal begging the army to take care and warning it they were surrounded by armed men, the army failed to protect the people. Furthermore, no military reinforcements were sent to the area during the five-hour gap between Joumaa’s arrest and the start of clashes.


2-                  It has been shown once again that the interests of the IS group and the Syrian regime often converge. On several occasions, they are understood to have rendered services to each other, with the regime allegedly acting in a manner that enabled IS to take control of several areas. The fighting in Arsal is another example of this convergence of interests. It dealt a severe blow to the campaign of guerrilla warfare that was being waged against the Syrian army and Hizbollah in the Qalamoun district, across the border in Syria, by IS’ rivals - Syrian opposition fighters and the Nusra Front - presumably because Arsal was on their main supply route.


3-                  Al-Nusra has shown anyone willing to support it in Lebanon that it has positive attributes. At the start of the battle, IS fighters stormed Arsal and fought with residents. Al-Nusra fighters, however, tried to remove IS fighters from the town, protect civilians, and allow medical assistance in.


This shows the need for a national plan to be developed that focuses on the dangers of al-Nusra expanding into Lebanon, and large numbers of Islamic State group fighters massing at the Lebanese-Syrian border.


Former Lebanese security officials responsible for assessing the situation say that jihadis of all flavours pose a dangerous threat to Lebanon. Even more worryingly, they argue, if the situation is handled badly, it could intensify internal sectarian divisions in Lebanon. Therefore, the security situation should not be solved in piecemeal isolation - but as part of a national policy.


This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.

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