“The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is present in Lebanon in the form of individuals,” Charbel said in a TV interview, adding, “The danger lies in [these individuals] forming an organization of their own.”
Charbel’s televised comments raised fears of the sectarian civil war in Syria spilling over into Lebanon.
Lebanon’s second-largest city, Tripoli, has been the scene of violent clashes between local Shi’ites sympathetic to the government of Syria’s President Bashar Al-Assad, and Sunni residents sympathetic to the rebels trying to topple him.
The Lebanese government turned over responsibility for security in the city to the army earlier this month after a number of deadly clashes between local residents, which followed a deadly double bombing at two mosques in August, which worsened sectarian tensions.
The involvement of the Shi’ite Hezbollah movement in Syria has also stoked tensions in Lebanon. The group has played a key role in helping Syrian government forces retake several strategic cities from the largely-Sunni rebels.
In a video purportedly posted online by ISIS, Islamists threatened to assassinate Charbel over the heightened security measures the Lebanese government has recently taken in Tripoli to contain violence.
Speaking exclusively to Asharq Al-Awsat, Salafist preacher Omar Bakri denied that Lebanon had any elements affiliated with Syria’s ISIS and the Nusra Front groups, both of which are affiliated with Al-Qaeda.
Bakri dismissed Charbel’s remarks as “personal analysis,” but he expressed fear that they would be translated into “arbitrary arrests of the Sunni youth in the city of Tripoli.”
“The presence of individuals or organizations adopting Salafist or jihadist ideologies is not limited to Lebanon,” he said.
According to Bakri, if the groups were active in Lebanon, they would have launched attacks against the Lebanese military.
When asked about the possibility of such groups extending their activities to Lebanon, Bakri said: “Once the ISIS or Nusra Front begin to establish an Islamic emirate [in Syria], they will work to extend it to include not only the Levant but all Arab countries and then Africa.”
In related news, the Lebanese army on Saturday arrested seven Syrian nationals who were to smuggling weapons into the border village of Arsal.