November 19, 2013 | Policy Brief

The Abdullah Azzam Brigades and the Attack on Iran’s Embassy in Beirut

November 19, 2013 | Policy Brief

The Abdullah Azzam Brigades and the Attack on Iran’s Embassy in Beirut

By David Barnett

The Abdullah Azzam Brigades (AAB), an al Qaeda-linked group, announced today that its Hussein bin Ali Battalion was responsible for the double suicide attack on the Iranian embassy in Beirut that killed 23 and wounded dozens. The attack, according to press reports and confirmed by Hezbollah’s Al Manar TV, killed Iran’s cultural attaché Sheikh Ibrahim al Ansari.

The US Treasury added AAB to the list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists and Foreign Terrorist Organizations in May 2012. The US State Department noted in the accompanying Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) designation that the group was “responsible for numerous indiscriminate rocket attacks on Israeli civilians.”

The AAB, named after Palestinian ideologue Abdullah Azzam who mentored Osama bin Laden in the 1980s, was reportedly formed by Saleh al Qarawi sometime after 2004. Al Qarawi, who took orders from fallen al Qaeda in Iraq commander Abu Musab al Zarqawi, is now believed to be in Saudi custody.

Of the groups fighting forces, the Ziad al Jarrah Battalion is perhaps the most prolific. Named after the Lebanese citizen involved in the attacks of September 11, the battalion primarily operates out of Lebanon. The Yusuf al 'Uyayri Battalion, another AAB unit, operates out of the Arabian Peninsula and claimed responsibility for the July 2010 attack on the M Star, a Japanese oil tanker that was traveling near the Strait of Hormuz.

The AAB, now led by Majid bin Muhammad al Majid, disseminates propaganda routinely. Its statements have included calls for the overthrow of the Saudi government, denouncements of Lebanon’s security structure, and support for the fight against the Syrian regime. The group also released a statement lamenting the death of al Qaeda emir Osama bin Laden in May 2011. 

More recently, one of the group’s officials offered a eulogy for the deputy leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Said al Shihri, whose death was confirmed this summer.

While the motives for today’s attack have not been made explicit, the Sunni group has expressed strong disdain for Iranian and Hezbollah support to the Assad regime in the ongoing Syrian civil war. In fact, the group openly denounced Iran in June of this year. In August, the group called on Sunnis to fight Hezbollah and its interests (Iran), which the group’s leader deemed “legitimate targets.” In the same statement, the group slammed Iran for “playing the role of the savior of the Jews from the danger that is threatening them by the removal of the al Assad regime.”

David Barnett is a research associate at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.


Al Qaeda Hezbollah Iran Lebanon Syria