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Backgrounder: Fatah al-Islam

Council on Foreign Relations

Author: Rebecca Bloom
May 21, 2007

What is Fatah al-Islam?

Fatah al-Islam is a militant Sunni Islamic group said to have Lebanese, Syrian, and Palestinian members among its ranks. Estimates of its size vary: According to Reuters it began with two hundred members and militants from other Palestinian groups have since joined. It is also suspected to have ties to al-Qaeda. Based in Lebanon, the group quickly gained notoriety in mid-2007 after violent clashes between its members and Lebanese security forces left scores dead.

How was Fatah al-Islam formed?

Fatah al-Islam emerged in November 2006 when it split from Fatah al-Intifada (Fatah Uprising), a Syrian-backed Palestinian group based in Lebanon, which itself was a splinter of Yasir Arafat’s mainstream organization Fatah. Lebanese security officers dispute that it was a real split and allege that Fatah al-Islam is a part of Syrian intelligence security forces. Syria denies any link to Fatah al-Islam.

Which terrorist acts are linked to Fatah al-Islam?

On May 20, 2007, a battle between Fatah al-Islam and Lebanese troops left at least forty-one dead, the country’s worst internal violence since the end of Lebanon’s civil war in 1990. The fighting began when Lebanese security forces investigating a bank robbery raided an apartment north of Tripoli. In response, members of Fatah al-Islam seized control of army posts at the entrance of the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp, which Lebanese army tanks then proceeded to shell. The camp’s electricity, phone lines, and water were cut off. At least twenty-two soldiers were killed along with at least seventeen militants and two civilians. There was also fighting in the streets of Tripoli, where more Lebanese soldiers were killed. The following day a car bomb in Beirut killed one person, though it was unclear whether Fatah al-Islam played any role.

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Copyright 2007 by the Council on Foreign Relations. This material is republished on with specific permission from the Reprint and republication queries for this article should be directed to

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