Posted by: Lister | May 25, 2007

Does paying mean funding?

The Daily Star complains that Hersh never checked deeply enough into the allegations he made of Americans, Saudis and others funding Islamist (al-Qaeda type) groups in Lebanon. Ditto all those that quoted him.

My question arises from this explanation given by the paper:

Lately, we’ve had more ricochets from that story. Writing in The Independent on May 22, journalist Robert Fisk, who we might forget lives in Beirut, picked up on Hersh, citing him uncritically to again make the case that Hariri was financing Islamists. So we have Fisk quoting Hersh quoting Crooke quoting someone nameless in a throwaway comment making a serious charge. Yet not one of these somnolent luminaries has bothered to actually verify if the story is true, even as everything about the fighting in Nahr al-Bared virtually confirms it is not true.

The lie about the government financing of Fatah al-Islam has been given legitimacy thanks to a spectacular blunder by the Hariri camp, in particular Bahiyya al-Hariri. A few months ago she helped resolve a crisis that had resulted from the presence of Islamists located in the Taamir district of Sidon, abutting the Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp, by paying compensation money to Jund al-Sham militants so they would leave the area. From the narrow perspective of Sidon, which Bahiyya al-Hariri represents in Parliament, this made sense. Taamir was a running sore in relations between the state and inhabitants of the area on the one side and the Islamists and camp residents on the other.

However, instead of disbanding, a number of the militants went to Nahr al-Bared, according to Palestinian sources. There, they joined Fatah al-Islam. Now the Hariris look like they financed Islamists, when they were really only doing what they usually do when facing a problem: trying to buy it away.

Most of the rest of the article blames Syria, though it admits that Absi (head of Fatah al-Islam) was imprisoned in Syria.

Hersh made his report in the New Yorker:

Alastair Crooke, who spent nearly thirty years in MI6, the British intelligence service, and now works for Conflicts Forum, a think tank in Beirut, told me, “The Lebanese government is opening space for these people to come in. It could be very dangerous.” Crooke said that one Sunni extremist group, Fatah al-Islam, had splintered from its pro-Syrian parent group, Fatah al-Intifada, in the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp, in northern Lebanon. Its membership at the time was less than two hundred. “I was told that within twenty-four hours they were being offered weapons and money by people presenting themselves as representatives of the Lebanese government’s interests — presumably to take on Hezbollah,” Crooke said.

The largest of the groups, Asbat al-Ansar, is situated in the Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp. Asbat al-Ansar has received arms and supplies from Lebanese internal-security forces and militias associated with the Siniora government.

In 2005, according to a report by the U.S.-based International Crisis Group, Saad Hariri, the Sunni majority leader of the Lebanese parliament and the son of the slain former Prime Minister — Saad inherited more than four billion dollars after his father’s assassination — paid forty-eight thousand dollars in bail for four members of an Islamic militant group from Dinniyeh. The men had been arrested while trying to establish an Islamic mini-state in northern Lebanon. The Crisis Group noted that many of the militants “had trained in al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan.”

According to the Crisis Group report, Saad Hariri later used his parliamentary majority to obtain amnesty for twenty-two of the Dinniyeh Islamists, as well as for seven militants suspected of plotting to bomb the Italian and Ukrainian embassies in Beirut, the previous year. (He also arranged a pardon for Samir Geagea, a Maronite Christian militia leader, who had been convicted of four political murders, including the assassination, in 1987, of Prime Minister Rashid Karami.) Hariri described his actions to reporters as humanitarian.

[Edit: Michael Young’s Daily Star article requires subscription. What looks like the same article is posted at this blog. Alternatively, googling for “michael young” and “buy it away” seems to find a few quotes.]

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