'We have to defend our land': Lebanese Christians organize self-defense to fight ISIS
The threat of Islamic State has crossed the borders of Syria to neighboring Lebanon, making Christians there arm themselves to defend their land and families from the extremists. RT goes to the Syrian-Lebanese border, to meet the militias.
More than 20 people have been killed in northern Lebanon in clashes between the army and Sunni militants in the past four days. AP quoted Lebanese security officials as saying that 12 soldiers and 10 civilians were killed while 92 soldiers and 63 civilians have been wounded since Friday.
"With the Syrian war next door, we have many troubles, many suspicious people come here, we have to be on high alert. We have to defend our land from terrorists, from ISIS and Nusra Front [al-Qaeda branch operating in the area," Abu Tony, a militia member of the town of Qaa in north-western Lebanon told RT.
Qaa militia patrol the border area every night, with thousands of Islamic State fighters and other jihadists reportedly massing on the border with Lebanon near the town of Arsal, less than 20 miles away.
There are concerns the militants are about to launch an onslaught against the Christian population in the region.
"Behind this mountain there are militants and they always try to infiltrate here. Last time, just five days ago, with fought with them and killed most of them," Abu Georges of Qaa militia told RT.
The men of Qaa, which is situated some three miles from the Syrian border, organized themselves six months ago. There are around 300 in the group, with more self-defenders expected to join the militia forces.
Thousands of civilians had to flee their homes in northern Lebanon's Tripoli area over the weekend, under the threat of Islamic State militants attack.
"Just seeing them makes you terrified! Sometimes I go to sleep and see them in my nightmares. They told me they would take our village, and then others - all the way to Tripoli and make it part of Islamic State," a 76-year-old truck driver Makhul, who was kidnapped by the militants just outside his village in Lebanon, told RT.
The old man spent over 20 days in captivity, and his release cost his family 30,000 US dollars.
Christians maintain considerable power in Lebanon, with estimates suggesting the number is roughly equal to Muslims. The exact percent of Christian believers has been disputed for decades, with the last official census conducted in the country in 1932, but studies show there might be up to 40 percent currently living in Lebanon.
According to a report, published at the start of the year by a group monitoring persecution of Christians worldwide, at least 2,100 Christians died because of their beliefs in 2013. Most of the dead were in Syria, where radical Islamist groups have clamped down on a long-established religious minority.