Army of Islam (Jaish al-Islam) logo
Army of Islam (Jaish al-Islam) logoIsrael News Photo: (archive)

A new Islamist jihad group that may become as much of a threat to Hamas as it is to Israel is gaining strength in Gaza.

The Gaza-based group of Salafi Muslims, known as the Army of Islam (Jaish al-Islam), first made headlines a year ago when it kidnapped British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) reporter Alan Johnston near his Gaza City bureau office.

"It was nothing personal," commented their leader, Abu Mustafa, in an interview published over the weekend by the German Der Spiegel. "It was a message to the West that they should release imprisoned Muslims." He added that at the

Compared to us [Hamas] is Islamism-lite.

moment foreign journalists are not in danger in Gaza.

The Salafis – also known as the Wahabis – "feel just like al-Qaeda and [we] think as they do," said Abu Mustafa. The limping terrorist, who still suffers from a serious leg injury he received in an Israeli air strike after his group launched a rocket attack on civilians in the western Negev last January, would not say whether he is in contact with al-Qaeda.

The 33-year-old terrorist leader claimed that he has attracted approximately 5,000 followers so far, not including women and children. He ducked the question of whether foreigners were among them.

Abu Mustafa, who has a degree from Germany's University of Saarbrucken, told Der Spiegel that his group envisions a day when the world will be ruled by Islamic law. In that scenario, some people will convert, some won't but "will be able to live in peace under the authority of Islam," and in some cases, holy war will ensue, "just like our brothers on Sept. 11."

Abu Mustafa does not consider Hamas to meet the criteria for real followers of Islam, however. "They are traitors. Compared to us, they are Islamism-lite."

Whether they will come to violence over their differences, and ultimately a struggle for control of the region, is a separate issue.

"We will give them the chance to turn away from the false path," he said, but added that if Hamas does not comply, "Then there will be confrontation." In the long run, however, Abu Mustafa said he believes Hamas's "American style of Islam" will do the job for him. "They will destroy themselves."