Hamas in Gaza
Hamas in GazaIsrael news photo: Flash 90

Salafi demonstrators in Gaza were blocked by Hamas police on Saturday from protesting last week's assassination of Al Qaeda terrorist founder Osama bin Laden.

The Salafis – an Islamist group that has repeatedly challenged the rule of Hamas in Gaza – gathered in the main square of Gaza City. Hamas forces held them there and stopped the protesters from marching through the streets, instead ordering them to disperse.

Some protesters waved photos of Bin Laden, chanting “We warn you, America. We warn you, Europe,” according to the Reuters news agency. Others held banners that read, “We are all your soldiers, Obama,” and “Osama is alive inside us.”

Hamas de factor Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, who last week signed a unity deal with Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, referred to bin Laden as “an Arab holy warrior” upon learning of his death.

Nevertheless, there have been numerous firefights between Hamas and the Al Qaeda-linked Salafist group over the past year as they struggle for control of the region.

Al Qaeda-Linked Salafis Struggle for Gaza
Barely a month ago, an Italian member of the pro-PA International Solidary Movement (ISM), Vittorio Arrigoni, was murdered in Gaza by Salafi Muslims.

Arrigoni, who first was kidnapped, was seen prior to his murder in a video that showed him bruised, tied up and blindfolded. The Bethlehem-based Ma'an news agency reported that Arrigoni's Salafist kidnappers belonged to the A-Tawheed wa-Jihad terrorist organization.

A second Salafi group operating in Gaza, the Jund Ansar Allah, is also associated with Al Qaeda. According to Abu Al-Hareth, the group's founder, there are more than 11,000 Salafis in the region – and at least 70 percent are former members of Hamas.

The two other Salafi groups that comprise the Jaljalat, or Salafi umbrella organization, are the Jund Allah and the Jamat Jaish al-Islam, also known as the Army of Islam.

The Army of Islam, run by the Doughmush clan, is the group the was behind the kidnapping of British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) bureau chief Alan Johnston, who was released about four months later.

The Army of Islam also participated together with Hamas and the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) in the June 2006 kidnapping of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, who remains in captivity to this day, and whose condition and whereabouts are still unknown.