The Abdullah Azzam Brigades: Behind the Terrorist Group That Bombed Iran’s Beirut Embassy

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Sharif Karim / Reuters

A forensic inspector collects evidence at the site of two suicide bombings near Iran's embassy in Beirut on Nov. 20, 2013

The al-Qaeda-linked Abdullah Azzam Brigades took responsibility for Tuesday’s suicide-bomb attack on the Iranian embassy in Lebanon, raising fears that the Lebanese-based Sunni group may unleash a new spate of religious conflict in a country that is still recovering from its own sectarian civil war. The attack — which killed 25, including an Iranian diplomat — injured 150 and caused widespread damage in a quiet residential neighborhood. Sirajeddine Zuraikat, the group’s unofficial spokesman and religious leader crowed about the success of two “heroes” of the Sunni community on Twitter (his account, @sirajeddineZ, has since been suspended) and vowed attacks would continue.

The attack is but the latest spectacle brought about by a loosely aligned terrorist group with branches in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. In 2012, the organization was declared both a Foreign Terrorist Organization and a Specially Designated Global Terrorist group by the U.S. Department of State. Two of the branches were singled out: the Saudi Arabian wing for a 2010 attack on a Japanese oil tanker off the coast of Oman and the Lebanese wing for a series of rocket attacks against Israel.

(MORE: Bombing of Iranian Embassy in Beirut Raises Fears of Syrian Spillover)

Formed in 2004 as an offshoot of al-Qaeda in Iraq, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades initially set out to attack Western interests in the Middle East and the Levant. In 2005 they claimed credit in tandem with another jihadi group for a coordinated bombing at the Egyptian seaside resort of Sharm el-Sheikh that killed 88. The organization’s mandate has since expanded, calling for the overthrow of the Saudi monarchy and a Sunni uprising in multiethnic Lebanon. In 2009 the brigades took responsibility for an attack on the Pearl Continental hotel in Peshawar, Pakistan, that killed 17, though it is not entirely clear how close the relationship is between the Pakistani branch and the others.

By 2012 members of the group were thought to be in Syria, fighting alongside rebels aligned against the regime of President Bashar Assad. That same year they issued an audio message threatening any Lebanese Shi‘ites caught fighting on Assad’s behalf, a clear reference to the Lebanon-based Shi‘ite militia Hizballah. Hizballah’s main backer is Iran; yesterday’s attack on the Iranian embassy appears to be an escalation of that threat.

But the Abdullah Azzam Brigades have continued to dabble in their anti-Israel activities as well, claiming credit for a series of rocket attacks from Lebanon on Israeli targets on Aug. 22. “This operation comes within the series of our jihadi work directed at the Jews,” they said in a statement translated by SITE and posted by the Long War Journal.

(MORE: Iran’s Foreign Minister Turns to YouTube to Defend Tehran’s Nuclear Program)

The brigades are named after Abdullah Azzam, Osama bin Laden’s Palestinian mentor whose charisma and oratory drew thousands of foreign fighters to Afghanistan to fight the Soviet invasion in the mid-’80s, creating the core of al-Qaeda. He also helped found Hamas. Azzam was assassinated in a bomb attack in Peshawar in 1989. Though no one knows for certain who was behind the assassination, many blame Ayman al-Zawahiri, the current leader of al-Qaeda. The two men argued frequently over the meaning and goals of jihad. Azzam’s son-in-law and confidant, the Algerian mujahid Abdullah Anas, told TIME in 2009 that his father-in-law would be appalled by the current justifications of jihad practiced by groups similar to the Abdullah Azzam Brigades. “He called people to fight in Afghanistan because it was occupied by the Soviets. If he saw what happened in Iraq and what is happening in Palestine he would say the same thing. But what is going on in the name of jihad, killing civilians, kidnapping, hijacking airplanes, explosions in the public places — that is not what Abdullah Azzam called a jihad.” Azzam, said Anas, never believed Muslims should kill Muslims, no matter their sect. It’s likely that he wouldn’t have been too pleased to see his name attached to Tuesday’s attack in Lebanon, either.

MORE: As Iran Talks Resume, U.S.-Israel Ties Get Put to the Test

13 comments
IceToes
IceToes

My sympathies to the family and friends of those innocents lost and injured in the attack. My sympathies to the Iranian nation, as well, for the loss of and harm done to its citizens and embassy. Such attacks, whether in the name of religion or not, are disgusting and subhuman.

MiklosLegrady
MiklosLegrady

Yesterday I recorded a video of Syrian jihadists beheading a Catholic priest and 2 others. Along with the 19 year old executed as a heretic for refusing a free coffee to a jihadist, and the Sunni beheaded by other Sunnis who thought he was a Shiite because of his ramblings when deeply wounded, we get a basic idea of jihadists as people who love to kill, psychopaths with blood lust in the name of God. Another reminder that Islam is THE religion of peace. Like hello, guys, you need a reformation, as Salman Rushdie once said. http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2013/07/syrian_jihadists_beh.php

contactjohn
contactjohn

the next time there is a terror attack I say we (US) hit Saudi Arabia with a nuke.

contactjohn
contactjohn

Israel and Saudi Arabia, nutty freaks in bedroom attire and weirdo chosen sociopaths from a centuries ago psychosis are responsible for all the terror worldwide, they are al quaida and it is time for regime change in Saudi Arabia and Israel!

Openminded1
Openminded1

Muslims no f-ing good, religious fanatics, that kill if you do not agree with their way of life and beliefs. They are not to be trusted.  You liberal morons out there think they are wonderful people of peace. bs they hate your guts and should never be trusted. by the way Obama is a muslim. he will not say so, because if he had he would not be in the oval office. Smart con man.

Procivic
Procivic

No country has invested more in international terrorism than Saudi Arabia. Its Wahabi sect is responsible for the fundamentalism that has ravaged Afghansian, Pakistan, Chechnia, Russia, Syria, North Africa and other Moslem and non-Moslem countries. Their allies, the 6.000 Saudi "princes" have the blood of hundreds of thousands on their hands for introducing the kind of sectarian conflicts that the world lives with today

jimmyjimmyjimmy111
jimmyjimmyjimmy111

@MiklosLegrady Your ignorance is stunning. Let's see: there are Muslims who are fighting very hard to defeat these terrorists. The terrorists are losing, and the Muslims are winning. So what would you call Islam then? You have the reasoning and rational abilities of a child. 

chatila
chatila

@contactjohn I find it funny that you hate two countries, but only want to nuke one.  Why is that?


richard.draucker
richard.draucker

@contactjohn Removing the blanket U.N. Security Council veto is all that would be needed to put an end to it all.  Once Israel is subject to the same standards as all other countries of the world, they'll have no choice but to reign in the extremists or cease to exist. 

AF32
AF32

@Openminded1

Every side has got problems so just calm down there your getting yourself riled up for nothing.

For example. you mock what you say about religious fanatics by behaving like them. 

Everybody has a right to exist and believe, however at the same time don't give a single inch to religious fanatics. You never should have to and nobody is saying you do.

But when you speak out like a simple minded peasant about people in such a generalized way, you only give fuel to their fire. 

Left to itself the ideology of religion will leave the fanatics weaker and weaker in relation to each generation raised on education and technology. 

So let them rant and rave while you focus on using education to better your life.

Study Up. Think it through.

That would speak louder than anything you have said here. 

Which only made you look like who you were trying to speak out against.


MakeADifference25
MakeADifference25

@Openminded1 How can you say that about muslims? You see some muslims on tv and they do bad things it does not mean that ALL muslims are the same. You dont not judge millions of people by the actions of a group of people.  I am a muslim and I live in america. I was born and raised here and i have plenty of friends that are not muslim.  I do not hate them because they do not have the same beliefs as me, i respect them. I hope you realize that Muslims are not bad people and we are not evil. About obama being a muslim, lol i highly doubt that but who knows right? And you should be openminded just like your username is. From your comment you sound very ignorant and closed minded.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@AF32 @Openminded1 The difference moron, bleeding heart is I am venting on line and telling it like it is. This so called peasant his 63 years old retired police commander from a major city after 30 years of service. This simple mind is college educated and that is worth nothing,it is my years on the streets and experience in life that matters. You have great sentiment but not realistic. You stick to your way of thinking, I have stayed alive through Vietnam and 30 years on the streets in law enforcement with my street smarts and way of thinking. Its called the real world. You pseudo intellects live in a bubble of fantasy and wishful thinking, nice but not real.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@MakeADifference25 @Openminded1 far from ignorant, and openmided is meant to be ironic. as for Obama you must not be a good muslim, he was born a muslim,,his dad, his step dad,his aunts,uncles, cousins, and brothers all muslims. His white mom married two muslims his dad and step dad. he has 6 muslims on the white house staff, one his wifes mentor, a self admitted muslim. the reason you did not hear the liar Obama say he was a Muslim is simple, if had told the world he was a Muslim he would not be in the Oval office now. His brother Malik is a member of the Mulsim brotherhood in Kenya. You still doubt he maybe a Muslim? Sorry he is not to be trusted and anyone who trust a muslim is careless and dumb. You see if their are good muslims they do not wear name tags stating I am a nice Muslim as opposed to a muslim fanatic killer who also does not wear a name tag that says I am a bad muslim. The Answer trust no Muslim because you can not. The people and neighbors of the Boston Brothers trusted them, They all said they were nice guys. A smile can fool you a muslim smile can kill you.