Al Qaeda exploits Lebanon war despite Shi'ite rift

By Mark Trevelyan, Security Correspondent
Thursday, July 27, 2006; 10:58 AM

BERLIN (Reuters) - Al Qaeda has signaled its intent to use the war in Lebanon as a recruitment tool, despite the ideological gulf between its Sunni Muslim leaders and the Shi'ite Hizbollah militants fighting Israel.

Arab security analysts said a video from al Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahri on Thursday, in which he urged Muslims to "fight and become martyrs" in response to the conflict in Lebanon, would strike a chord with some on the Arab street.

They said it would tap into a growing feeling among militant Islamists that the fight against Israel must take precedence over sectarian divisions between Sunni and Shia Muslims.

For al Qaeda, the 16-day-old Lebanon conflict is "a great opportunity and a good instrument for recruitment," said Mustafa Alani of the Gulf Research Center in Dubai.

Mohamed al-Sayed Said of the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo said al Qaeda was looking to mobilize an "intense feeling of injustice and humiliation" among many Arabs, even though Lebanon and the Arab-Israeli conflict had not traditionally been central to its cause.

"It has always argued that changing the world and changing Arab regimes has the priority over fighting Israel," he said.

"I think they'll probably come to see this (crisis) as an opportunity to gain a little bit more legitimacy."


Zawahri, in the tape, did not specify how al Qaeda would respond to the spectacle of "bombs raining on our people" from Israel, which has attacked Lebanon from the air and on the ground in response to Hizbollah's capture of two of its soldiers and rocket attacks on the Jewish state.

Some Western security officials have warned since the crisis began on July 12 that it could increase the danger of reprisal attacks outside the Middle East.

While there is no evidence of concrete attack plans, they say, such a threat could come either from Hizbollah or from militants normally hostile to the Shi'ite group but seeking to exploit the situation for their own ends.

Said said the Lebanon crisis had prompted a debate among some Sunni militants about whether it was legitimate to show solidarity with Hizbollah.

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