Intelligence officials are publicizing an Islamic militant who has formed a new organization in Lebanon, creating a new public face of Al Qaeda.
(There is) a new militant Islamic organization called Fatah al Islam, whose leader, a fugitive Palestinian named Shakir al-Abssi, has set up operations in a refugee camp here where he trains fighters and spreads the ideology of Al Qaeda.
He has solid terrorist credentials. A former associate of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda of Mesopotamia who was killed last summer, Mr. Abssi was sentenced to death in absentia along with Mr. Zarqawi in the 2002 assassination of an American diplomat in Jordan, Laurence Foley. Just four months after arriving here from Syria, Mr. Abssi has a militia that intelligence officials estimate at 150 men and an arsenal of explosives, rockets and even an antiaircraft gun. ...
American and Middle Eastern intelligence officials say he is viewed as a dangerous militant who can assemble small teams of operatives with acute military skill.
"Guys like Abssi have the capability on the ground that Al Qaeda has lost and is looking to tap into," said an American intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity. Mr. Abssi has shown himself to be a canny operator. Despite being on terrorism watch lists around the world, he has set himself up in a Palestinian refugee camp where, because of Lebanese politics, he is largely shielded from the government. The camp also gives him ready access to a pool of recruits, young Palestinians whose militant vision has evolved from the struggle against Israel to a larger Islamic cause.
Intelligence officials here say that he has also exploited another source of manpower: they estimate he has 50 militants from Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries fresh from fighting with the insurgency in Iraq.
The officials say they fear that he is seeking to establish himself as a terror leader on the order of Mr. Zarqawi. "He is trying to fill a void and do so in a high-profile manner that will attract the attention of supporters," the American intelligence official said.