Bakr Seif, two weeks before his wedding, told his mother that he was going to visit his fiancee and would return for lunch. His mother called Bakr Seif’s fiancee when he didn’t show up at night. She said that he hadn’t been to see her.
Seif’s mother last saw him on Dec. 8. He was one of nine killed last week in an airstrike by the Iraqi army against suspected militants in eastern Iraq. Four of the victims were Lebanese and all hail from the small, impoverished village just north of Tripoli.
As Lebanon fell deeper into economic despair, many young men fled the country’s northern regions. They later escaped to Iraq where they were believed to have joined Islamic State. Fears of a new wave in radical recruitment have been fueled by frustration and despair caused by economic turmoil and sectarian tensions.
Many Lebanese have fallen into poverty since the local currency collapsed, the value and importance of their salaries has plummeted, and the prices have shot up. Tripoli was Lebanon’s poorest capital before the crisis. Things have only gotten worse since scores of young men are unemployed in the streets.
Some young men join IS because of poverty, but it’s more than that. Tripoli and the surrounding areas are also home to many Sunni Muslims from Lebanon, who feel neglected by the government in Beirut. Sunni youth have been targeted by security forces in their crackdowns on militancy. Activists have claimed for years that thousands of them have been held without trial due to suspicions of militant connections.
Seif’s mother believed that her son was being held by Lebanese intelligence. He called her five to six days before his death, the first time she had heard from him since his disappearance. She said that he wouldn’t tell her whereabouts and only told her, “I have not been wronged, i have been wronged” without any explanation.
Seif, who was held on suspicion of “acts terrorism”, spent seven years in prison and was released without trial in June. Seif’s family insists that he is innocent and has opened a grocery to hire him, as no one else would after his release.
He was constantly afraid. His mother used to tell him, “I trust no one except my family,” he said.
Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi was the top leader of IS and was killed by U.S. forces in an attack on his safehouse in northwest Syria. Experts believe that, while his death may cause temporary disruption, the group will be able to replace him and continue its violence in Syria and Iraq.
There are not many Lebanese who have joined IS, as there were hundreds of them who fled to Syria during the civil war. The flow of Lebanese wanting to join IS has slowed down since the war ended several years ago.
It seems that the migration to join IS in Iraq is new. Mohammed Sablouh (Centre for Prisoners Rights), who is the Center for Prisoners Rights’ head, stated that it is believed that 70-100 young men have disappeared from Tripoli in the past months. However, the exact number is unknown.
They came from the most deprived areas in Tripoli and may have been lured to IS by the promise that they would get jobs. Others were afraid they would be caught up in the crackdowns.
“These men have been manipulated by dark forces led, by those who profit from the revival Daesh” Sablouh stated using Arabic for IS.
Other than the two Lebanese who were killed in Sunday’s attack, there have been at least two more Lebanese killed in Iraq since December.
Tripoli was the scene of militant violence in past — the worst being in 2014 when militants inspired Islamic State launched attacks on the army of Lebanon.
The disappearances of young men started to increase in August, shortly after Ahmad Murad (a former military intelligence member) was killed and shot in Tripoli.
The military later claimed it had arrested an IS cell, which included six militants who were involved in Murad’s murder. Other IS cells in northern Europe fled after the capture of this cell was captured.
Since March 2019, IS remnants have waged a campaign to launch frequent hit-and run attacks in Syria, Iraq and Syria.
Two of their most bold operations have been launched recently.
About 200 IS militants attacked Hassakeh prison in Syria’s northeastern region on Jan. 20 and were joined by rioting prisoners. The Kurdish-led U.S. fighters fought for control of the prison for more than a week, killing nearly 500 militants and destroying several hundred others.
January 21st, IS gunmen from Iraq entered a barracks located in Diyala Province. They killed a guard and then shot 11 soldiers while they were sleeping.
Iraqi military conducted airstrikes against an IS cell that it claimed was behind the attack on the barracks. Nine militants were killed, including the Lebanese.
Officials in Iraq claim that four Lebanese were murdered. Fadel Seif, Wadi Nahleh’s mayor, stated that they were five — Bakr Seif with his cousin Omar Seif and three of their friends, Anas Jazzar, Omar Shkheidem, and Youssef Shkheidem. The village’s largest family, the extended Seifs, is the largest.
The mayor stated that there are many factors that make youth flee. One of them is a lack of work.
Omar Seif’s mother claimed that Omar disappeared on the last of 2021, and that he called her from a number she did not recognize days later. Lebanese authorities were informed by her, and Omar was said to be in Iraq using an Azeri phone number. “I told him he was dead to me. She said that she did not raise him to send him to Iraq, Syria or to any other country.
She received a call on Sunday from an unknown number, advising her that her son had been murdered.
Omar’s mother claimed that he was harassed for years by Lebanese security officers. She said that Omar spent many years in prison even as a juvenile on suspicions of terrorism. He was detained repeatedly for brief periods after his release. Police would then beat him and give him electric shocks, she stated.
“Prison destroyed us. It destroyed our children, our reputation, and our dignity. It cost us our money. He even died in prison,” she stated, speaking from her small ground-floor apartment. As relatives and friends came to offer condolences, she spoke.
She stated that Omar couldn’t live a normal existence or work because authorities had officially removed his civil rights. This meant that he couldn’t vote or get a job in the government.
“When a young man between 15-30 cannot get married, buy anything, or go to a restaurant to eat like everyone else, he will choose death.”