ISIS, the Sunni militant group which gained strength in Syria and has seized a number of Iraqi cities over the past two weeks, seems to be making headway in other parts of the region as well.
In Lebanon, a dozen suspected militants were arrested in a Beirut hotel on Friday on suspicion of planning two assassinations. The New York Times reports:
Security forces blocked off numerous streets in Hamra, the main commercial district of West Beirut, and surrounded the Napoleon Hotel. Outside the hotel, in a neighborhood of narrow streets full of shops, apartments and midrange hotels, dozens of armed security officers forced pedestrians off the streets, then led 12 men, their heads covered, out of the hotel.
Lebanese news outlet NOW Lebanon reported that the men were suspected of targeting parliament speaker Nabih Berri, leader of the Shiite political group Amal. The group had canceled an event earlier on Friday over security concerns. The militants were also allegedly planning to kill Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, commander of the country's general security agency.
According to the Times, ISIS has been saying for several months that it intends to set up a Sunni Islamic state in Lebanon, which has suffered from Islamist attacks this year as the factions in the Syria war have moved across the border.
And, Reuters reported today, an ISIS propaganda video has emerged showing militants who say they are from Australia and the U.K. urging Muslims to join the group. Reuters describes the video, titled "There Is No Life Without Jihad," as showing five armed men with black al-Qaeda flags behind them. ""We are a State who is implementing the sharia (Islamic law) in both Iraq and Sham (Syria), and look at the soldiers - we understand no borders," one man, identified in a caption as Abu Muthanna al-Yemeni from Britain, says in English. He adds, "we have participated in battles in Sham, and we will go to Iraq in a few days, and we will fight there, Allah permitting, and come back, and we will even go to Jordan and Lebanon, with no problems."
Meanwhile, fighting continues in Iraq, where ISIS militants have seized control of a Saddam-Hussein-era chemical weapons store. The insurgents now have access to hundreds of tons of unused sarin, mustard and other deadly gases, although much of the material is considered unusable in its current state. The CIA reported in 2007 that the complex holds "a stockpile of old damaged and contaminated chemical munitions (sealed in bunkers)." The report continues:
[al-Muthanna is] a wasteland full of destroyed chemical munitions, razed structures, and unusable war-ravaged facilities... Some of the bunkers contained large quantities of unfilled chemical munitions, conventional munitions, one-ton shipping containers, old disabled production equipment and other hazardous industrial chemicals.
One expert told the Telegraph that though the militants likely won't be able to utilize the chemical weapons as intended, but that they could use the supplies to build explosive devices. However, one U.S. official contends that the people most likely to be harmed by the chemicals are ISIS, as the militants themselves would become contaminated should they try to move them.