Lebanese troops continue their assault on a Palestinian refugee camp located on the outskirts of Tripoli with artillery and tank fire in an effort to snuff out Hezbollah-linked militants that have been using the refugee camps as recruiting offices and training camps for an alleged Syrian backed terrorist organization.

The Lebanese army is fighting against a group calling itself Fatah Islam, whose leader has not only said he is inspired by Usama bin Laden, but that the purpose of the group is to train militants for attacks in other countries. Until now the militants have been allowed stockpile weapons and train terrorists virtually unchecked because of an agreement between Lebanese officials and the PLO that Lebanese troops were not allowed to enter the refugee camps.

This siege of the refugee camp began Sunday after police, who raided several Fatah Islam hideouts in Tripoli while searching for men wanted in a recent bank robbery, were attacked by Fatah fighters, forcing police to call in Lebanese troops for back up. When the troops arrived, militants poured out of the nearby refugee camp, and ambushed the army. The Lebanese army has been using their tanks to fire at buildings known to be militant hideouts, and have been instructed to ‚Äústrike hard‚Ä? at any target that returns fire.

Fatah Islam leader is a Palestinian named Shaker al-Absi, who is wanted in three countries for various terrorist related activities. According to al-Absi, he is on a mission to spread Al Qaeda’s ideology and is currently training fighters inside the camp for attacks on other countries. Al-Absi‚Äôs claim that he is exporting terrorism from the refugee camp based training ground has been, at least in part, confirmed by Lebanese officials who have linked at least one of the militants (Saddam El-Hajdib, the fourth-highest ranking official in the Fatah Islam group) killed Sunday to a failed German train bombing.

Al-Absi was sentenced to death earlier in absentia along with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (the former leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq killed by a U.S. air strike last year in Iraq) for the 2002 assassination of an American diplomat in Jordan. Curiously enough, al-Absi had been in custody in Syria until last fall but was released. Since he was set free by the Syrians, al-Absi has successfully set up his terrorist network in the camp where, until now, he has been allowed to conduct his business without any outside interference whatsoever.

The fact that al-Absi was released from Syrian custody despite his status as an international fugitive seems to back up claims made by Lebanese officials that Damascus was using Fatah Islam as a covert way stir up trouble in the region. Fatah Islam has up to 100 members who come from Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia and Syria, as well as local sympathizers who belong to the Salafi branch of Islam. According to reports, some of the dead militants were from Bangladesh, Yemen and other Arab countries.