May 21, 2007

Dozens Slain as Lebanese Army Fights Islamists

FromDozens Slain as Lebanese Army Fights Islamists:

Fierce clashes erupted between Lebanese Army soldiers and the Islamic militant group Fatah al-Islam in the vicinity of a Palestinian refugee camp in Tripoli on Sunday, leaving 22 Lebanese soldiers and 17 militants dead and dozens injured. The confrontation raised fears of a wider battle to rout militants in the rest of Lebanon's 12 refugee camps, where radical Islam has been gaining in recent years. The ranks of religious militants bent on a broader jihad have swelled, as some have traveled to Iraq to join the insurgency there and, more recently, have returned to establish movements of their own within the camps. Fatah al-Islam has been a growing concern for security authorities in Lebanon and much of the region. Intelligence officials say it counts between 150 and 200 fighters and subscribes to the fundamentalist precepts of al-Qaeda. The group's leader, Shakir al-Abssi, is a fugitive Palestinian and former associate of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the former leader of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia who was killed last year in Iraq. Both men were sentenced to death in absentia for the 2002 murder of an American diplomat, Lawrence Foley, in Jordan.