- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 4, 2002

LONDON The leader of the Lebanese Muslim group Hezbollah is urging a global suicide bombing campaign, increasing the prospect that the regional conflict between Arabs and Israelis will expand to mimic or even merge with al Qaeda's war against the West.
Two recent speeches by the Lebanon-based Hezbollah leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, have raised the specter of attacks outside the region by a powerful and well-organized military force a force that successfully pushed the Israeli army out of southern Lebanon two years ago.
"By Allah, if they touch Al Aqsa we will act everywhere around the world," Sheik Nasrallah told an estimated 10,000 gun-toting, bearded fighters in southern Lebanon on Friday. Several hundred "suicide commandos" also took part.
Al Aqsa refers to a sacred Muslim site in Jerusalem that, although under Israeli military control, is in practice administered by Palestinian Muslim authorities.
The site, holy to both Jews and Muslims, is a flash point for tension and outbreaks of violence.
Taken alone, Sheik Nasrallah's remarks might be interpreted as no more than a warning to Israel not to alter the status quo.
But earlier in the week, at a rally in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, Sheik Nasrallah issued a far more ominous threat.
"Martyrdom operations suicide bombings should be exported outside Palestine," he said.
"I encourage Palestinians to take suicide bombings worldwide. Don't be shy about it," he added.
Both speeches were broadcast by a Hezbollah-owned TV station in Lebanon.
The sheik has made no direct comment on Thursday's twin attacks in Kenya, in which missiles were fired at an Israeli passenger jet and suicide bombers attacked an oceanfront hotel.
However, a previously unknown group calling itself the Army of Palestine claimed responsibility for the attacks in a press statement sent from Beirut.
"The rapid statement, and the peculiarity of Lebanese fundamentalist terminology used in that statement, leads me to believe that this was the hand of Hezbollah," said Walid Phares, a professor of Middle Eastern studies and religious conflict at Florida Atlantic University.
The Palestinian militant groups in Gaza and the West Bank insist they have no intention to take their battle with Israel outside the region.
Islamic Jihad spokesman Nafez Azaam said yesterday his group's "ideology and strategy is based on fighting the occupation and liberating the Palestinian lands."
"We have no interest in transferring the battle to any field outside Palestine," he told the Associated Press by phone from Gaza.
Hamas spokesman Ismail Abu Shanab also told AP his group had "no interest in engaging in battle with anyone else outside the land of Palestine."
But Mr. Phares warned that Hezbollah had been establishing closer ties with Palestinian radical groups, holding meetings in Lebanon with representatives of Hamas and Islamic Jihad every couple of weeks and issuing joint press statements.
Although Palestinian groups in exile actively attacked Western targets in the 1980s with high-profile hijackings and bombings outside the region, the focus shifted with the onset of the first Palestinian uprising against Israel in 1988.
Throughout the 1990s, Hezbollah and Palestinian groups operating from the West Bank and Gaza Strip pursued a strictly national agenda.
Since Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon in May 2000, Hezbollah has sought a new and expanded role, and had strengthened its contacts with radical Muslims including al Qaeda, Mr. Phares said.
In that context, Mr. Phares described Sheik Nasrallah's comments as a "benchmark."
Hezbollah enjoys strong financial backing from its mentor Iran, and has been permitted and encouraged to operate, within certain confines, by Syria, which controls Lebanon.
Its military prowess has been seen as a model by Palestinian leaders, who had hoped that by initiating a second uprising against Israel in September 2000, they too could force a similar withdrawal by Israeli forces from the West Bank and Gaza.
Hezbollah would never openly declare an alliance or relationship with al Qaeda, according to analysts, because that would embarrass Syria.
Syria is actively being courted by the United States because of Syria's longtime animosity toward its neighbor Iraq.
Hezbollah has already made some inroads into Palestinian insurgency: Its yellow flag, with the words "Allah is Great" inscribed in green, appears at many radical Palestinian demonstrations.
The flag can even be seen in some Arab villages in Israel.
Israel's defense force chief, Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon, on Monday said al Qaeda was already operating against Israeli targets.
He said his forces had already foiled many al Qaeda attacks in Israel, adding that the organization made use of Palestinian operatives in the West Bank and Gaza.
In some ways a tacit alliance between the two is surprising, in that al Qaeda along with Hamas and Islamic Jihad are strong adherents of Sunni Islam, while Hezbollah's followers are Shi'ites.
The two branches of Islam reflect a schism that occurred in one generation after the founder Muhammad.
However, the branches' common hatred of the West appears to have muted social and doctrinal differences. Hezbollah has close Sunni allies in two key Lebanese cities, Tripoli and Sidon.
Imad Mughnieh, the Hezbollah official who masterminded the attacks against the U.S. Marine barracks, French Marines and the U.S. Embassy in 1983, fled to Iran. Intelligence sources report he met with al Qaeda operatives in the late 1990s.
Of concern for anti-terror agencies is the stronghold Hezbollah has established in Canada, which is seen as a springboard for future actions and influence inside the United States.
Canada's government has been under fire from the opposition, lobbies and some parliamentary members of the ruling Liberal Party to ban the organization. Canada's only action so far has been to order banks to freeze the assets of the group's "External Security Force," the National Post newspaper reported.
The newspaper also reported that Bill Graham, the minister of foreign affairs, had decided not to outlaw Hezbollah in its entirety because the group is also involved in social and political work in Lebanon.
The group has been using Canada as a source of money, forged documents, stolen cars, recruits and military-use equipment, the Post reported Saturday, citing unnamed police and intelligence officials.
One of Sheik Nasrallah's top men, Ayub Fawzi, 38, operated from Canada for several years. He was on the list of 22 wanted terrorists published by the United States after the September 11 attacks.
At some point, he moved back to the Palestinian territories and was captured by Israeli security forces in June.

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