Via Al Akhbar:

Lebanon has become an integral part of the plans of al-Nusra Front. Al-Qaeda’s fastest-growing offshoot is seeking to merge Lebanon’s extreme Islamist factions into a united front.

In mid-February, at a location in the barren hills surrounding the Lebanese town of Ersal, H. A. Dergham posed for pictures with dozens of his armed followers. Under the banner of Syria’s al-Nusra Front and behind a table draped with the Syrian “revolutionary” flag, he brandished a rocket-propelled grenade launcher in one hand and made a victory sign with the other.

Dergham is a principal suspect in the February 2013 attack on an army patrol near Ersal in which a captain and lieutenant were killed and several soldiers injured. The assault followed the attempted arrest of Khaled Hamid, who was described as the top al-Nusra Front “facilitator” in Lebanon.

Dergham’s group also works closely with al-Nusra Front in Syria, and has been playing a leading role in plans to establish a “branch” of the organization in Lebanon.

Al-Nusra Front was formed in Syria in 2011. It rapidly grew into the most prominent of all the country’s armed opposition groups once it was joined by like-minded former members of the Lebanese-based groups Jund al-Sham and Fatah al-Islam.

In March 2012, a group led by Majed Bin-Mohammed al-Majed, Saudi emir or “commander” of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, moved from the Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp in South Lebanon to Syria.

Their intended aim was to take over the leadership of al-Nusra Front, and replace its commander, known as Abu-Mohammed al-Joulani, with Majed. But once in Syria, many of his followers turned against him and sided with Joulani. He returned to Ain al-Hilweh.

Meanwhile, the ex-members of Fatah al-Islam and Jund al-Sham got on with the task of training and organizing Joulani’s men. Within a few months they managed to improve al-Nusra Front’s performance and organization, turning it into the most formidable armed faction in Syria and an important front for al-Qaeda’s global jihad.

These Lebanese groups have plans to merge militarily and organizationally into a unified Lebanese chapter of al-Nusra Front. Dergham’s group is the most closely associated with the plan. Based around Ersal, it provides extensive logistical support to al-Nusra Front.

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