Militant groups active in Lebanon tried to mobilize the country’s Sunni population to attack Shiite citizens on Friday. This is the first instance where the Islamic State group formally called its Lebanese supporters to action amid negotiations to release dozens of Lebanese hostages who have been kidnapped by militants.
Lebanon is at risk of becoming a breeding ground for extremist ideology and a target of militant infiltration as the government increasingly cracks down on Sunnis. The Islamic State group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, and al Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra have had a presence in Lebanon for some time. Though Nusra has been more active in the country than ISIS, the recent arrest of the wife of a commander seems to have given the latter group new momentum.
“I call on you, Sunnis, to rise up in unity. Our wives and men are in prisons. They took my wife and children and had no right to do so,” ISIS commander Abu Ali Shishani, whose real name is Anas Sharkas, said in a video released Friday.
Shishani urged residents in Tripoli to kidnap women and children to avenge what he said was unfair detention of his own loved ones, according to the Associated Press. His wife, Ola Mithqal al-Oqaily, was arrested earlier this week in the Libyan capital where Shishani claimed she was living as a refugee. She is being held in prison with ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s ex-wife Saja al-Dulaimi, according to the Daily Star.
“She was merely a refugee in a school just like any other woman. ... Why did they take her because of her husband? Damn you!” Shisani said.
Initial media reports said Shishani was a senior commander for al Qaeda, but he denied the claim in his video statement, insisting he would sacrifice his family for the ISIS caliph. In Lebanon, the militant groups are not as divided as they are across the border in Syria. The two had even reportedly begun merger negotiations, according to the Daily Star.
Though ISIS has been gaining allegiance from groups throughout the region since it declared a caliphate in Iraq and Syria this summer, the Nusra Front hoped to consolidate militant forces active in Lebanon’s Qalamoun region under its commander Abu Malek al-Talli. Negotiations fell through Friday and clashes between the two militants erupted in Qalamoun, the Daily Star reported.
Talli’s group is reportedly responsible for kidnapping 27 Lebanese officers this summer. Government officials and militant leaders are in ongoing negotiations, brokered by the government of Qatar, for their release, but Shishani warned continued negotiations depended on the immediate release of his wife and child.
"If my wife is not released soon, do not dare to dream about the release of the soldiers without negotiations,” Shishani said. “Even if you hold all Muslims captive.”