Asbat al-Ansar (League of the Followers or Partisans' League) is a Sunni extremist group in Lebanon, chiefly made up of Palestinian refugees. Based in the Ayn al-Hilwah refugee camp in southern Lebanon, Asbat al-Ansar is thought to have links with al-Qaeda and other related Sunni extremist groups.
Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon and Syria are havens for terrorist groups. While Hamas, Hezbollah, and al-Fatah generally dominate, smaller, more extreme groups, such as Asbat al-Ansar, operate on the fringes and draw membership from individuals alienated by the larger outfits. Asbat al-Ansar bases its ideology on Salafism, a branch of Islam whose adherents believe in a pure interpretation of the Koran and Islamic law. The group is virulently opposed to Israel, the West, and other religious sects in Lebanon such as the Shia, Christians, and Druze. In total, the group hopes to set up a Sunni Islamic state in Lebanon.
The group was formed in the late 1980s or early 1990s by Sheik Hisham Shreidi, a Palestinian refugee and preacher. Shreidi was killed in 1991 by al-Fatah rivals, and shortly after his death, the Asbat al-Ansar split in to three factions, Asbat al-Nour, Jama'at al-Nur and Jund as-Sham (Army of the Levant). Asbat al-Nour was allegedly founded by Hisham's eldest son Abdullah in a dispute over leadership with Ahmad Abd al-Karim al-Saadi (a.k.a. Abu Mohjen). Abu Mohjen was Sheik Hisham Shreidi's top lieutenant and widely accepted successor. Abdullah and his younger brother Mohammed, who also led the splinter group, were killed by al-Fatah gunmen in 2003 and 2004 respectively, and it is suspected that Asbat al-Nour has now rejoined Asbat al-Ansar. The other faction, Jund as-Sham, would later be incorporated into Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's Tawhid and Jihad network, and some reports have this faction at odds with the other two sectors of Asbat al-Ansar. However, Abu Mohjen was reportedly named a top deputy by al-Zarqawi in Iraq, and any disputes between the three factions of Asbat al-Ansar are believed to be minor. Abu Mohjen has been sentenced to death in absentia several times by the Lebanese government and is believed to be operating in Iraq or Lebanon.
In its early stages, Asbat al-Ansar was responsible for attacks on soft targets such as clubs, liquor stores, and movie theaters. The group was also thought to be responsible for attacks on rival militant and religious leaders, including Sunnis who the group deemed to be too moderate. In the late 1990s, apparently buoyed by funding from al-Qaeda, the group began attacking hard targets of greater significance. Asbat al-Ansar is thought to be responsible for killing four Lebanese judges in 1999, a rocket attack on the Russian Embassy in Lebanon in January 2000 (apparently to express solidarity with Chechen Rebels), several thwarted attempts to assassinate the American Ambassador, as well as a foiled plot to attack the Italian Embassy, the Ukrainian Consulate General, and Lebanese Government offices in 2004. The group also reportedly organized a coup attempt in 2000 which was carried out by its allies Tafkir wa Hijra, another Sunni extremist group in the region. The failed attempt left dozens of people dead, including Lebanese soldiers and civilians. In the past few years, Asbat al-Ansar has been tied to a number of bombings at fast food restaurants in Lebanon, and has also been embroiled in an ongoing battle with al-Fatah over control of 'Ayn al-Hilwah which has cost many lives.
Despite denials from the group, Asbat al-Ansar almost certainly has ties to al-Qaeda and its related entities. Although Asbat al-Ansar is still dedicated to its goal of a Sunni Islamic state in Lebanon, many fear that the group has embraced the pan-Islamic ideals of Osama bin Laden, and is planning to extend its operations beyond Lebanon into Syria, Israel and Iraq. Although Asbat al-Ansar is relatively small, the group can be considered very dangerous and very active.