As the economy collapses, some young Lebanese turn into radicals

Wadi Nare (AP), Lebanon — Two weeks before getting married, Bakuru Seif told his mother that he would go out to meet his fiancé and return to lunch. His mother called her fiancé when he didn’t show up by night. He said he had never visited her.

That day, December 8th, was the last day that Safe’s mother met him. Last week he was one of nine people killed in an Iraqi military airstrike targeting a suspected radical in eastern Iraq. At least four of them were Lebanese, all from this small poor village near the northern city of Tripoli.

Dozens of young men disappeared from the marginalized north of the country and later emerged in Iraq as Lebanon went deep into economic misery in recent months, where they believed they joined the Islamic State group. Has been done. Immigrants took advantage of the frustration and despair fueled by economic collapse and denominational tensions to arouse fear of a new wave of radical recruitment.

Many Lebanese people fell into poverty as the local currency collapsed, salaries and bank account values ​​evaporated, and prices soared. Even before the crisis, Tripoli was the poorest city in Lebanon — and the situation was exacerbated by the presence of dozens of young, seemingly unemployed men on the streets.

But poverty does more than just get some young people involved in IS. Tripoli and its surrounding areas are also the center of many of Lebanon’s Sunni Islamic communities, resenting what they say is negligence from the government of Beirut. Security forces have targeted Sunni youth with extremist crackdowns, and activists say thousands of people have been detained without trial for years on suspicion of extremist ties.

Safe’s mother believed that her son was detained by Lebanese intelligence. But five or six days before he was killed, he called. She was the first to hear from him since he disappeared. He just told her, “I was wrong, I was wrong,” without her explanation, and did not say where he was, she said.

Safe was put in jail for seven years on suspicion of “terrorist acts” and released without trial in June. His family maintained his innocence and opened a grocery store for him to work because no one hired him after he was released.

“He lived in constant horror. He was telling me,’I don’t trust anyone but my family,'” his mother said.

IS’s top leader, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi Alkreishi, was killed in a US assault in his hideout in northwestern Syria on Thursday. Experts believe that while his exclusion can cause short-term turmoil, the group can replace him and continue violent campaigns in Iraq and Syria.

Apparently, the number of Lebanese participating in IS is far from the hundreds that went to neighboring Syria to join rebels during the height of the country’s civil war, including those related to al-Qaeda. .. As the war declined a few years ago, the flow of participating Lebanese was exhausted.

The transition to joining IS in Iraq seems new. Mohammed Sabouraud, a lawyer who heads the Prisoners’ Rights Center, said the exact number is unknown, but it is believed that 70-100 young people have disappeared from the Tripoli region in the past few months.

He said they came from the poorest districts in and around Tripoli, and some were fascinated by the promise of work without realizing they were attending the IS. Others were afraid to get involved in the crackdown.

“These men have benefited from Daesh’s resurrection and are being manipulated by the forces of darkness led by those who want to hurt the image of Tripoli,” Sablouh said using the Arabic acronym for IS. rice field.

In addition to the deaths on Sunday’s strike, at least two other Lebanese have been killed in Iraq since December.

Tripoli has been a scene of radical violence in the past — the most serious in 2014 when radicals inspired by Islamic State groups attacked Lebanese troops.

Shortly after former military intelligence officer Ahmad Murad was shot dead in Tripoli, the disappearance of young men began to increase in late August.

In a subsequent search, the military said it had arrested an IS cell, including six militants involved in Murad’s murder. It seems that the capture of the cell put other IS cells in the north into action.

The remnants of IS have been campaigning for frequent hit-and-run tactics in Syria and Iraq since the group lost the last fragment of Syria’s territory in March 2019.

They recently launched two of the most daring businesses to date.

On January 20, about 200 IS militants attacked a prison in the northeastern city of Hasakah in Syria, adding prisoners who caused riots. According to Kurdish officials, it took more than a week for Kurdish-led US-backed fighters to fully regain control of the prison, which killed nearly 500 people, including hundreds of militants.

On January 21, Iraqi IS militants invaded a barracks in the mountainous region of Diyala, killing guards and shooting 11 soldiers.

On Sunday, Iraqi troops bombed IS cells, which they said were behind the barracks, killing nine militants, including Lebanese.

Iraqi officials said four Lebanese were killed. The family and Wadi Nare Mayor Fadell Seif said they were five — Bakur Seif, his cousin Omar Seif, and three friends, Youssef Schkaidem, Omar Schkaidem, and Anas. Jather. The expanded Safe family is the largest in the village.

“There are several factors that make young people escape, the main one being lack of work,” the mayor said.

Omar Safe’s mother said he disappeared on the last day of 2021 and a few days later he called from a number she didn’t recognize. She used her Azerbaijani phone number to inform Lebanese authorities that her Omar was in Iraq. “I said, he’s dead (for me). I didn’t raise him to send him to Iraq, Syria or elsewhere,” she said.

On Sunday, she received a call from another unknown number saying her son had been killed.

Omar’s mother said he had been harassed by Lebanese security officials for a long time. She said he spent years in prison on suspicion of terrorism, even when he was young. After his release, police beat him and gave him an electric shock, she said, and he was repeatedly detained for a short period of time.

“The prison destroyed us. It burned our children, our reputation and dignity. It burned our money. Even our father died while in prison.” She said, speaking in the living room of a small ground-floor apartment with stripped walls when friends and relatives stopped by to offer condolences.

She said Omar was unable to live or work normally, vote or get a government job because the authorities officially revoked civil rights.

“If a young man between the ages of 15 and 30 can’t get married, buy something, or go into a restaurant and eat like everyone else, of course he chooses to die and becomes an easy target. increase.”