Written by Nadim Abillama, MIR Alum (2011) , Senior Program Assistant, NATIONAL DEMOCRATIC INSTITUTE (NDI) – LEBANON COUNTRY OFFICE


Current context

The military expansion of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant organization (ISIS or Daesh in Arabic) enabled it to seize power over significant portions of land in Iraq and Syria, triggering a military response from a US-led coalition. There are 16 countries involved in the coalition, including Arab countries. The air strikes on ISIS started in August and contributed to contain ISIS’s expansion without making any decisive breakthrough for the moment.

Lebanon has witnessed a series of tensions since the beginning of the Syrian crisis in March 2011. The military involvement of Hezbollah alongside with the Syrian regime prompted a reaction from radical Lebanese Sunni groups, which are hostile to the Assad regime. These groups mainly operate around the northern city of Tripoli and the Eastern town of Arsal, close to the Syrian border. Clashes also occurred between the Lebanese armed forces and a Jihadist group in the southern Sunni city of Saida, in June 2013. Since then, a series of attacks claimed by al-Nusra Front (al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria) and ISIS took place throughout Lebanon until June 2014.

Socio-economic challenges

The very high influx of Syrian refugees (1,132,000 refugees are reported by UNCHR in Lebanon, although actual figures seem higher) in a country of four million inhabitants and the precarious socio-economic conditions in the ten Palestinian camps located across Lebanon create a favorable environment for the recruitment of Jihadist candidates by groups such as ISIS and al-Nusra Front.

Several militants were arrested for being members of terrorist cells operating in Lebanon, such as Majid al-Majid, head of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, arrested in late December 2013 by the Lebanese authorities and who died in custody, a few days later. Security forces already detained presumed al-Qaeda members since 2007 after a Jihadist group affiliated with al Qaeda challenged the Lebanese military forces in the Nahr al Bared Palestinian camp. In January 2014, ISIS and al-Nusra Front declared war on Lebanon. They demand the liberation of their detained members, as well as Hezbollah’s withdrawal from Syria.

Recent developments

The capture of Ahmad Jomaa, a commander of al-Nusra Front, by the Lebanese army on August 2nd, triggered a six-day battle that resulted in the death of 121 people, including 42 civilians, 19 soldiers and 60 militants. Moreover, 30 members of the Lebanese security forces were captured by ISIS and al-Nusra Front. Three of them have already been executed. Both groups have expressed demands to the Lebanese government, the main one being the liberation of their members detained in Lebanese jails.

Recurrent clashes in Arsal and Tripoli have taken place ever since and culminated in a battle between the army and Islamist armed groups in Tripoli after ISIS member Ahmad Mikati was arrested on October 23 2014. This triggered a four-day battle that ended with the death of 42 people, including 8 civilians and 11 soldiers.


As a result, groups affiliated to both ISIS and al-Nusra Front are still operating in Lebanon. The political stalemate in the country, as well as the chronic economic challenges faced by Lebanon, are preventing the emergence of a national policy against these militant groups. In parallel, the United States and the other members of the international coalition against ISIS are conducting talks with the Lebanese security forces in order to involve them directly into the broader struggle against ISIS and its allies in the region.


Interesting readings

Lebanese military foil ISIS’ attempt to establish emirate in Tripoli: sources http://www.aawsat.net/2014/10/article55337980

Report: Lebanon Pulled into War with Islamic State Group



Army nabs 16 suspected militants in north Lebanon raids


Al-Qaeda merges with Isis at Syria-Iraq border town



Tripoli battles part of ISIS-Nusra scheme to establish Islamic emirate


High-Ranking U.S. Military Official in Short Visit to Lebanon



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