The Growing al-Qaeda Presence in the Hamas-Controlled Gaza Strip


No. 553    April-May 2007

  • Al-Qaeda generally thrives wherever central authority of governments is collapsing and therefore its current success in the war-torn Gaza Strip should not come as a surprise.
  • Just after Israel’s unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip in August 2005, there were reports that al-Qaeda had exploited the new security vacuum that had been created and begun to dispatch its operatives to this territory. By March 2006, no less than the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) told the London Arabic daily al-Hayat, “We have signs of the presence of al-Qaeda in Gaza and the West Bank.”
  • In the meantime across the Middle East the external Hamas leadership maintained close ties with well-known figures associated with the al-Qaeda network, like the leader of the Kashmiri organization Hezb ul-Mujahidin, Sayyid Salah al-Din, in Pakistan and Abd al-Majid al-Zindani, a bin Laden loyalist, in Yemen. The latter met with Khaled Mashaal on March 20, 2006.
  • Significantly, al-Hayat reported on April 4, 2006, “a definite presence” of al-Qaeda operatives in Gaza who had infiltrated from Egypt, Sudan, and Yemen. Moreover, a little over a month later Egypt’s Interior Ministry disclosed that two terrorist operatives involved in the April 2006 attack on the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Dahab had undergone training in the use of weapons and explosives in the Gaza Strip.
  • On May 9, 2007, the Army of Islam organization (Jaish al-Islam) published, on a website identified with al-Qaeda (www.alhesbah.org), an official announcement in which it took responsibility for the kidnapping of BBC journalist Alan Johnston and called for the release of the Palestinian sheikh Abu Qatada, who is considered one of the main ideologues of al-Qaeda in Europe. Hamas spokesperson Ayman Taha acknowledged the fact that Hamas and the Army of Islam had cooperated on the military operational level.

 

Increasingly there are signs that al-Qaeda is gaining strength in the Gaza Strip. Amid the decaying internal situation in Gaza, with its regular gun battles between the well-established Hamas and Fatah militias, more incidents are reported of attacks against symbols of Western presence from an UNRWA school to a Christian bookstore. Internet cafés have also been repeatedly bombed. Al-Qaeda generally thrives wherever central authority of governments is collapsing and therefore its current success in war-torn Gaza should not come as a surprise.1

Seeming to emulate the al-Qaeda operations in Iraq, the militants in Gaza who belong to these new terrorist organizations are targeting Western reporters as in the famous cases where journalists from FOX News and the BBC were taken hostage. They have even adopted al-Qaeda style death threats, promising to slit the throats of Palestinian women journalists who appear on television without covering their hair.2 Even external appearances show al-Qaeda’s growing influence as members of its affiliate movements in Gaza often wear the same black head covering that was a trademark of the late al-Qaeda leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. All the evidence indicates that rather than challenge al-Qaeda’s bid to expand its presence in Gaza, Hamas prefers to collaborate with these new militant groups.

 

 

Al-Qaeda Enters Gaza

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Lt. Col. (ret.) Jonathan D. Halevi

Lt. Col. (ret.) Jonathan D. Halevi is a senior researcher of the Middle East and radical Islam at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He is a co-founder of the Orient Research Group Ltd.