Next target - Lebanon? Minister fears wave of ISIS-inspired bombings
Torn apart by a political crisis and surrounded by armed conflicts, Lebanon will become the next target for ISIS and other terrorists, said Foreign Minister Nohad Machnouk. Earlier this week, 28 were charged with planning suicide attacks.
"We must admit that what has happened in Iraq has caused great excitement among these groups that believe they can benefit from the Iraqi experience," the Sunni Muslim politician told Reuters.
"They think they can carry out similar operations in Lebanon. But so far, in the last two months, it is clear that the security awareness has been able to obstruct this. Yet, the danger of bombings is still there.”
Security agents have captured suspected terrorists at several locations, though only seven of the 28 targeted ISIS members have been detained so far. The arrests came after a botched raid in a Beirut hotel three weeks ago resulted in injuries to three policemen when a Saudi terrorist detonated a bomb, just as agents burst through the door of his room. ISIS took responsibility for the incident, terming it a “suicide attack.”
The recently-renamed Islamic State has already declared a Sunni caliphate in its controlled territories in Iraq and Syria, but in its previous incarnation intended to conquer the entire Levant, which includes Lebanon.
"I think this is their first official, documented appearance," said Machnouk, who insisted that police uncovered the cell before it received specific instructions to carry out acts of violence, and claims the current ISIS presence in the country consists of “individuals and not more."
The problems are exacerbated by political turmoil in Lebanon, which went without a government for a year until February, has still not held presidential elections scheduled for May, and is ruled by a parliament whose mandate expires in August.
The country’s demographics are inherently problematic – 40 percent of the population is Christian, and the rest Sunni and Shia in equal proportions – but tensions have multiplied many-fold since the outbreak of violence in neighboring Syria more than three years ago.
The spillover of the conflict has not only resulted in localized fighting, but in a flood of refugees the country can ill-afford to sustain. The UN recently announced that by the end of the year 1.5 million refugees – a third of the country’s population, and a higher ratio than any other country in the world – will live in Lebanon, not only those from Syria, but also Palestine and Iraq.
Meanwhile, Machnouk admitted that there is no immediate resolution of the political standoff in a country, where top posts are meted out to the different religions according to a decades-old agreement.
"The presidential election is a regional and international decision that has so far not been made and will not be made in the near term," he said. "It is linked to all the developments in the region: the situation in Iraq, American-Iranian negotiations, the possibility of Saudi-Iranian negotiations, many things."
And while battling against imported terrorism (though Lebanon also suffers plenty of homegrown violence) has united all the factions, the in-fighting may make it difficult to overcome it, particularly as thousands of people continue to uncontrollably cross the border each day.