A previously unknown extremist group has warned that "Shiite death squads" acting under Iranian religious edicts are preparing to attack Sunni Muslims in Lebanon.
In an Internet statement, the group, called the Mujahideen in Lebanon, also lashed out at Hezbollah, accusing the Iranian-backed militant Shiite Muslim group of aligning itself with "Lebanon's Crusaders" to eliminate the country's Sunni community.
The group urged Lebanon's Sunnis to prepare to defend themselves in the face of "Shiite death squads."
Although the group did not claim any link to al-Qaida, its statement was posted on an Islamic militant Web site commonly used by al-Qaida sympathizers. The statement's authenticity could not immediately be verified.
The statement came amid mounting political and sectarian tensions in Lebanon as a result of a power struggle between pro- and anti-Syrian groups.
Shiites are the largest of 17 religious sects in Lebanon, a country of 4 million people, and Hezbollah has had an upsurge in support in recent months after its 34-day war with Israel last summer.
"The death squads that have been readied in Beirut to strike the Sunnis under Iranian fatwas and Alawite political support from Syria are waiting for the zero hour, which is imminent, to kill our people and destroy mosques similar to what happened and what is happening daily in the land of the two rivers (Iraq)," said the statement by the Mujahideen in Lebanon dated Tuesday.
Ready for confrontation
"We call on our people in Lebanon to deal with this bitter fact courageously and to confront the heretics' malice by preparing for a confrontation," it added.
Referring to Hezbollah's political alliance with Christian leader Gen. Michel Aoun, who has repeatedly called for the resignation of Western-backed Lebanese government, the statement said "Hezbollah has become loyal to the sects of infidelity and apostasy."
The statement also accused Hezbollah of wanting to eliminate Sunnis by demanding for a national unity government to replace the government of Prime Minister Fuad Saniora, a Sunni.
"Today they (Hezbollah) want to fully control Lebanon in alliance with Lebanon's Crusaders and to eliminate the Sunni sect once and for all. Let the heretics know that we are ready to confront them with God's help. Let it be a war for which we are more yearning than them," the statement said.
Lebanon's political crisis deepened after Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah threatened to stage street demonstrations if Hezbollah's demand for a national unity government was ignored. He vowed this week to press with his group's campaign to replace the Lebanese government, saying the Cabinet had lost credibility after six ministers resigned.
Recent Hezbollah resignations
Hezbollah and its Shiite ally, the Amal Movement, withdrew their five representatives from the government last week. A sixth minister, who is Christian and allied with the president, resigned Monday.
Saniora has vowed to stay in power and refused to give veto power to Hezbollah and its allies.
Lebanon had rarely been an area where al-Qaida-style militants operate, but Syria and others have raised fears that al-Qaida is getting a foothold here.
Although al-Qaida has rarely carried out attacks in Lebanon, it is believed to have sympathizers among extremist factions in Palestinian refugee camps.
Lebanon's acting Interior Minister Ahmed Fatfat warned in recent months that al-Qaida was attempting to establish itself in Lebanon. He said the government had broken up four al-Qaida cells this year.