Al-Qaeda plays with explosives in Ain al-Hilweh

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After the assassination attempt on Colonel Talal al-Urduni’s life on May 19, opponents of the Fatah Movement in Ain al-Hilweh [Palestinian refugee camp] upgraded their weaponry from shells and bullets to explosive devices. This new type of violent operation witnessed by camp residents for the second time in six months brought back rumors about fighters from Syria seeking shelter in Ain al-Hilweh.

On Monday afternoon, the commander of the Shatila Martyrs Brigade (part of the Fatah Movement), Colonel Talal al-Urduni, had just finished a meeting at the Palestinian embassy in Beirut. He headed back to his headquarters in Ain al-Hilweh camp [on the outskirts of Saida], accompanied by Colonel Abu Shadi al-Sabarbari. His motorcade went through the Darb al-Sim checkpoint on his way to his office and home in the camp’s Hittin neighborhood. But as soon as it passed a scrap shop in al-Kinayat neighborhood, an explosive device blew up, damaging his car and injuring al-Sabarbari and three of al-Urduni’s companions, in addition to damaging a nearby cafe and several homes and shops.

Security sources pointed out a strong similarity between the device that targeted al-Urduni and those which were blown up remotely during the funeral of Fatah fighter Mohammed al-Saadi at the beginning of last January. Monday’s explosive device was made up of two kilograms of highly explosive material and filled with small metallic balls. The device was set off remotely by mobile phone, according to preliminary investigations.
The direct attempt on his life will be the beginning of a new phase of tit for tat operations between Fatah and extremist Islamist groups.

Much like the Saadi funeral bombing, eyewitnesses said that a young boy placed an unidentified object in a scrap pile and left in a hurry. This package is suspected as being the one that blew up. Another similarity is that although the device had a specific objective, it missed its target. During Saadi’s funeral, it had been placed on a corner of the funeral procession route in Darb al-Sim. But its impact was restricted when a car parked next to the device, which reduced the scope of the damage. Yesterday’s explosive, on the other hand, was set off after al-Urduni’s car had passed by, which also reduced the intended damage.

Although it did not kill al-Urduni, the bomb was a severe blow to Fatah and Ain al-Hilweh. The direct attempt on his life will be the beginning of a new phase of tit for tat operations between Fatah and extremist Islamist groups. Al-Urduni is widely suspected of having links with foreign intelligence agencies and his alias implies a link with the Jordanian intelligence. There is also talk about links with dismissed Fatah officer Mohammed Dahlan.

On the ground, he is best known as the heir to the role of former commander of al-Kifah al-Musallah [Armed Struggle] wing General Mahmoud Issa against the Islamists. The bloody feud between al-Urduni and the so-called “remnants of Jund al-Sham and Fatah al-Islam” has shaken the camp in the past few months, particularly because of the presence of extremist elements in neighborhoods and places where he had influence. Armed clashes, especially with the group loyal to Islamist activist Bilal al-Badr, and reciprocal assassinations have been frequent. The latest was recorded a few days ago with the assassination of Badr’s right hand man, Alaa Hujair.

According to major General Sobhi Abu Arab, the commander of Palestinian National Security Forces, the explosive “did not only target Fatah, but also the security and stability of the camp, especially after the national and Islamist efforts to protect the common Palestinian initiative, the formation of a joint security force, and reinforcing the camp against any tensions. Some people felt harmed and want to throw the camp into disarray and turn it into a new Nahr al-Bared.” Recently, Palestinian groups and factions agreed to expand the camp’s security forces, provide them with logistical support, and deploy them in a few days.

Other than al-Urduni, what did the second explosive device in Ain al-Hilweh set off? Security sources pointed to the months-old rumors “concerning the arrival dozens of al-Nusra Front fighters from Syria into Ain al-Hilweh, which is considered a safe environment.” The sources described the facilities provided to fighters fleeing the lost battles in Syria, such as renting homes, particularly in al-Taware and al-Safsaf. Both neighborhoods are witnessing the displacement of some residents after falling under the control of extremist groups.

The sources expected a recurrence of improvised explosive devices, after the assassination of Ali Khalil, Alaa Hujair, and Hussein Yacoub (aka al-Tawil) earlier. They were suspected of carrying out operations against their adversaries, especially Fatah members, including Ahmed Shikhan, Urduni’s bodyguard, who was assassinated in January of last year.

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