PA Salafi holds Al Qaeda-linked flag in Gaza
PA Salafi holds Al Qaeda-linked flag in GazaAFP photo

In three air strikes in Gaza over the past 24 hours, the Israeli Air Force focused on dealing a death blow to the Salafi leadership in the region.

Among those successfully targeted and killed was a top terrorist and founding head of the Mujahedeen Shura Council, Tawhid wal-Jihad chief Sheikh Hisham al-Saedini -- a move that may have helped Hamas.

Sheikh Hisham al-Saedini, 43, was riding a motorcycle in the northern Gaza town of Jabaliya at the time of the first strike late Saturday night. Fellow terrorist Fayek Abu Jazar, 42, was also killed, according to the AFP news agency.

Al-Saedini, a Jordanian citizen whose nom de guerre was Abu al-Waleed al-Maqdisi, has been behind the push to popularize Islamic Shari'a law in Gaza. The Tawhid wal-Jihad, a Salafi coalition organized in late 2008, claimed responsibility for a several recent barrages of rocket and mortar attacks on southern Israel.

Salafi Muslims are linked to the Global Jihad movement -- the Al Qaeda -- and their terror organizations hope to further radicalize fundamentalist Islamist Palestinian Authority Arabs in Gaza.

The ruling Hamas terrorist organization has found itself increasingly struggling with these groups for control over the region after having ousted its PA rival, the Fatah faction, from Gaza in June 2007.

Although Hamas is more observant of Islam than the secular Fatah faction, Salafi groups hold the ruling faction in contempt and hope to instead wrest control of Gaza from Hamas and install a Shari'a-bound regime instead.

Last year, al-Saedini was arrested by Hamas in connection with the April 2011 kidnap and murder of far-left International Solidarity Movement (ISM) activist Vittorio Arrigoni. It was al-Saedini's group who murdered the activist; but four months later, Hamas was forced by Jordan to release the Salafi leader.

There have been numerous firefights between Hamas and the Salafis as they struggle for control over Gaza. A second Salafi group operating in the region, 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

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 is run by the Doughmush clan and is the group that was behind the March 2007 kidnapping of British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) bureau chief Alan Johnston, who was released about four months later. 

In addition, the Army of Islam participated together with Hamas and the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) in the June 2006 kidnapping of former IDF Cpl. Gilad Shalit. The Israeli soldier was eventually traded in an October 2011 prisoner swap deal negotiated between the Netanyahu government and Hamas in exchange for more than 1,000 PA terrorists who were held in Israeli prisons, included hundreds of murderers serving multiple life sentences.