Tripoli has been linked over the past years with conservative movements and many extremist cells that were dismantled in northern regions like Akkar and Daniye. The Islamic scene in the city has long been influenced by the local complicated politics and the adversity toward al-Assad regime, which led to many terroristic attacks against the so-called Hezbollah that supports Assad’s troops in Syria.
Speaking about the conservative Islamic movements in Lebanon, Dr. Abdul Ghani Imad, expert in Islamic movements’ affairs explains that Sheikh Salem al-Shahhal established the first conservative Islamic group during the forties. His movement was missionary and aimed to amend the wrong practices of Muslims. On the political side, Shahhal didn’t have a clear position. He stood for the parliamentary elections in 1972, but he withdrew in favor of the “Jamaa Islamiya” (Islamic Group).
Many other extremist schools emerged in the region, like the school of Salem el-Rafei, who was among the first voices calling for “Jihad” in Syria, Bilal Dekmak , Sheikh Nabil Raheem or Sheikh Mohammad Khidr, along with radical Islamic movements like “Al-Tawhid” (Islamic Unification Movement) established by Sheikh Saeed Shaaban.
The concerns of the Islamic movements in Tripoli from the dangers of the Hezbollah’s positions increased, especially following the party’s attempts to invade Beirut and Mount Lebanon’s region in 2008, which led to a remarkable politicization in these movements’ features.
The Islamic groups in Tripoli currently receive financial support from different Arab countries, and depend on a network that includes Mosques, NGOs and schools. According to Imad, there are two types of these movements: one that has been armed and connected to a number of terrorist cells, and another that refused the armament. A source who preferred not to reveal his identity said that many activists from the conservative groups communicate regularly with security authorities in the country, and receive weapons from different political parties.
In fact, the general conservative Islamic scene in Lebanon is deeply split, just like other political and social parties in the country. Many foreign forces and local political parties have often exploited the Islamic groups in Tripoli to execute specific political plans.
Tripoli witnessed conflicts between extremist militants and members from the Alawite minority that supports Assad’s regime in Syria between 2012-2015.The battle concluded in the end of 2015, with the arrest of all militias’ leaders and the dismantle of terrorist groups. In May 2015, the Lebanese army arrested Ibrahim Barakat, described as one of ISIS’s officials in Lebanon, and accused of recruiting youth to the organization.
The majority of conservatives in Tripoli has long supported the force of 14 March, mainly the Future Movement presided by the former PM Saad al-Hariri, while the other radical groups, like “al-Tawhid”, which is funded by Iran and the Syrian regime, chose to support the forces of 8 March Alliance, led by so-called Hezbollah.
Yet, this scene has changed. In the municipal elections in May, these conservative groups have moved to uphold the former Minister of Justice Ashraf Rifi, known by his adversity toward Hezbollah and the Syrian regime.
Sheikh Mohammad Ibrahim, from the Mankoubin region, which heavily participated in the battles against Assad’s regime, said that the commitment of Ashraf Rifi to his restricted positions explains the remarkable support he received in the elections.
Yet, the variety of sects in Lebanon, and old Sunni alliances with the Lebanese state have succeeded in preventing al-Qaeda from controlling the region despite its constant attempts. However, according to Sheikh Ibrahim, the Syrian war and the violations committed against the Sunnis has changed this fact. He added that Hezbollah’s intervention in the Syrian conflict pushed many northern youth to join the Islamic militants in Syria.
Extremist sources in Tripoli considered that the new danger may emerge from a number of young men who have been randomly arrested. Sheikh Ibrahim says that many have been imprisoned for supporting the ideologies of ISIS and Nusra, and that those represent serious danger.
Although the Lebanese security forces have succeeded in capturing many terrorist cells, yet, it’s still unable to put an end to extremism, as it’s still unable to provide them with better living conditions.