On February 1st, 2013 a Lebanese Army intelligence unit was ambushed in Aarsal. Two Lebanese soldiers and a wanted man were killed Friday when an Army patrol trying to apprehend the man was ambushed in the eastern town of Aarsal near the border with Syria. The Army identified the victims as Captain Pierre Bashalani, 31, and Sergeant Ibrahim Zahraman, 32. The incident was triggered by a Lebanese Army Intelligence attempt to arrest Khaled Hmayyed, a resident of Aarsal. Hmayyed was killed during clashes with Army Intelligence agents. In retaliation, gunmen in the area ambushed the Army patrol.
According to Brig. Gen. Edmond Fadel, head of Lebanese Army Intelligence, Khaled Hmayyed was a member of Jabhat al-Nusra, a militant Islamist group with ties to Al-Qaeda. The group was created in January 2012 in Syria. Jabhat al-Nusra was designated by the United States as a terrorist organisation in December 2012. “The wanted man was very dangerous: a professional with experience in criminal activities. He was a unique target for authorities given his potential to affect Lebanon’s stability and prestige,” Brig. Gen. Edmond Fadel said during a chat with reporters.
Lebanese intelligence sources revealed that Hamayyed is a suspect of kidnapping seven Estonian citizens in the Bekaa on March 23, 2011, as they were riding from Syria to Lebanon on bicycles. He is also suspected of being involved in the shooting incident against the Lebanese army in Aarsal on Nov. 22, 2011, to prevent an army patrol from arresting a Syrian jihadist named Hamza al-Qarqour.
LBC TV published on Thursday two arrest warrants by the military court against Khaled Hmayyed. It pointed out that “the first warrant was issued in October 2012 against the named Khalid Ahmed Hmayyed, nicknamed Abu Qatada and Abu Mustafa Ali and Abu Azzam al-Shami, and required his arrest for belonging to an armed organization in order to carry out terrorist acts”. The warrant stated that any security apparatus can arrest him and transport him without delay to prison. The second arrest was issued on November 14, 2011 requesting the arrest of Hmayyed for his role in an attempt to kill.
As usual, this incident was used and abused politically and many stories were introduced in order to use the death of a wanted man and two army personnel in order to gain politically and to sweep under the carpet the attack against a Lebanese army unit and the assassination of its soldiers. Several people from Aarsal and many politicians outside Aarsal who support the Salafist and their jihad in Syria and Lebanon said that those who went to arrest Hmayyed were in civilian cloth and unmarked vehicle. They thought they were Hezbollah members. They followed the car and ambushed them. The pictures from the Ambush scene and later on from Aarsal village show that all those who were killed, wounded and kidnapped were wearing Lebanese army uniforms. The vehicles used are army vehicles with army license plate on them. Ironically, the video released on YouTube were posted by those who attacked the Lebanese Army Intelligence unit. If you see the video, you will think that you are in Kandahar (Afghanistan) or Falluja (Iraq). The dead army officer and the wounded were all thrown over each other inside an army vehicle when they were brought back to Aarsal village. The family of martyr Sergeant Ibrahim Zahraman stated that their son was alive when he reached Aarsal (as the video shows). The family said that he was wounded in his foot but a local sheikh issued a fatwa to kill him. His death was a result of blunt force injury to the head by a sharp object (a picture of his body also circulated online).
Aarsal ambush is similar to other attacks on Lebanese army in who did it, why they did it, the atrocities and the celebration over dead army soldiers. Dinniyeh ambush, on Dec. 31, 1999, and the attack on army checkpoint at the entrance of Nahr al-bared camp on may 21, 2007. In both incidents, army soldiers were slaughtered.
Aarsal ambush isn’t an isolated incident. Many local and regional factors been inciting division in Lebanon and trying to light the fire that has been dormant for some time. The political division in Lebanon between March 14 and March 8 camps, the Syrian revolution, the Zawahiri call to join the jihad in Syria and Lebanon, Gulf states using Lebanon to fight Syria, Iran role, Hezbollah weapons, …. All these factors are pushing Lebanon to the point of no return.
Arming Salafist Jihadist to face Hezbollah is a mistake done by many Lebanese politicians and regional powers. Hezbollah didn’t learn that its weapons can’t protect what it gained politically. 2013 is not 1999 and 2007. The Lebanese didn’t realize that many things have changed and Aarsal incident or any future skirmish will drag Lebanon to an ugly civil and religious war. Today, the Salafist groups have a strategic depth that stretches from the Bekaa and North Lebanon to Damascus and Homs countryside. This link will lead to religious war in the Bekaa if the situation isn’t fixed. Hezbollah support to Assad regime and the Sunnite support to the Syrian revolution might show its ugly face in inter sects fighting in the Baalback and Hermel region. Such clash will bring Lebanon to its knees and will destroy all the efforts made in the past two decades to pull Lebanon out of a civil war.
The name Aarsal means “God’s throne” in Aramaic. On February 1st 2013, Aarsal become the “thorn in God’s eye”.