Relatives of Salafist prisoners held by Hamas
Relatives of Salafist prisoners held by HamasAFP photo

Palestinian Authority security forces arrested 20 Salafists on Sunday, AFP reported, citing a senior source.

The report of the arrests came hours after a Gaza-based group affiliated with Al-Qaeda confirmed it has infiltrated Judea and Samaria as part of its war against “the Jews,” Christians, infidels and the Palestinian Authority.

The Ramallah-based source denied that any of those arrested in a series of recent raids in the northern part of Judea and Samaria had any ties to the global jihadist group set up by the late Osama Bin-Laden.

Salafists adhere to a strict version of Islam that they say was practiced in the time of the prophet Mohammed. Some but not Salafists advocate Al-Qaeda's brand of global jihad.

"In the last few days, around 20 people were arrested in Nablus (Shechem -ed.), Jenin and Qalqilya," the source told AFP, speaking condition of anonymity and saying those arrested "embrace the Salafist ideology but are not affiliated with Al-Qaeda."

"There are no Al-Qaeda affiliated groups operating in the West Bank, but there are a few Salafist jihadist groups," he told the news agency.

His remarks came after the Mujahedeen Shura Council said three PA Arabs who were shot dead by Israeli troops in on November 26 were its members, describing them as "the tip of the iceberg."

"By the will of God Almighty, the global jihadist doctrine has reached the bank of pride, the West Bank, planting its foothold after all attempts to thwart its presence," the group said in a statement quoted by AFP.

It was the first time a group with ties to Al-Qaeda has claimed to be operational in Judea and Samaria.

The group, which is known for carrying out rocket attacks on southern Israel from both Gaza and Egypt's Sinai peninsula, also called for a "jihad" against the Western-backed Palestinian Authority, describing its leaders as "tyrants who conspired with infidels."

"They have lost as the jihadist doctrine has reached the (West) Bank," it said.

The IDF's Central Command said that the operation that killed three Salafi terrorists last week foiled a huge terror attack.

But the PA security official told AFP that none of the Salafists arrested in the recent sweep were armed, adding that they were all ex-members of the Hamas movement which rules Gaza.

"All of them are former members of Hamas and embrace the global Muslim Brotherhood ideology that produces ideologically extreme groups," he said.

"These men are connected locally through technology but are unarmed... They are not members of Al-Qaeda and they don't receive any instructions or weapons from it," he added.

The Salafists have also challenged Hamas in Gaza, saying it is in contempt of Islam and trying to wrest control of the region away from Hamas.

Hamas has responded by cracking down on Salafists and arresting them.