Al Qaeda terrorists teaching in Gaza
Al Qaeda terrorists teaching in Gaza Israel news photo: (composite)

Gaza’s ruling Hamas regime issued an official statement on Wednesday that there are no Al Qaeda operatives in the region. A spokesman for the Hamas-run Interior Ministry expressed fury at rumors making the rounds in Israel of a gradual takeover in Gaza by the international Al Qaeda terrorist organization.

Yahav al Yussein exclaimed, “These stories are lies. There is absolutely no Al Qaeda organization here.” Al Yussein added that the rumors were spread in order to “provide an excuse for Israel to carry out new military offensives” against the region. He acknowledged, however, that there are some people in the region who have “adopted an extremist ideology,” but said, “the Gaza government is dealing with them in a firm manner, as it did during the events in Rafiah. This phenomenon does not exist today in Gaza.”

An IDF source said Wednesday that army officials do not attribute much importance to the information published by Hamas about the presence of Al Qaeda in Gaza. A senior security official knowledgeable about what is happening in the region told the Arutz Sheva Hebrew news service that if the international terrorist group has infiltrated Gaza, “they came to teach, not learn.”

The Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) noted in its annual report last week that operatives from a broad range of groups in the “global jihad” movement have appeared in the region over the past year. Dozens of terrorists have joined various military groups popping up in Gaza, said the agency, such as the Jaljalat, the Jund Ansrallah, and other organizations.

“During the past year, operatives from these groups have attempted to carry out bombings inside Israeli territory and along the border fence,” the agency reported. “For instance, [global jihad] operatives took responsibility for an attack on January 27 (2009) in which an IDF soldier was killed by an explosive device near southern Gaza. Another attack was foiled in June.” Terrorists mounted on horseback were thwarted in an attempt to kidnap and kill Israeli soldiers patrolling along the security fence.

The attempted terror attacks by rival operatives have caught the attention of Hamas, inasmuch as they signal a threat to the organization and its control over the region.  The activity has also raised tensions between Hamas and groups affiliated with the Global Jihad movement that have not accepted the authority of the ruling faction.

Tensions climaxed in July when Hamas terrorists clashed with Global Jihad operatives who had been using a mosque in the area of Rafiah. During the battle, many of the Global Jihad commanders were killed and wounded, and a number of others associated with the movement were arrested and taken prisoner. Several Hamas terrorists were also killed, including a number of top officials. Nevertheless, the clash did not prevent the various Global Jihad groups from continuing their activities, and the movement has slowly begun to take hold in the region.

Al Qaeda Infiltration Not New

Terrorists from the Al Qaeda organization have been seen in Gaza for several years already. PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas accused Hamas in 2008 of allying itself with the group and helping its operatives to infiltrate Judea, Samaria and Gaza.

In a February 2008 interview with the London-based Arabic newspaper al-Hayat, Abbas declared, “I can say without doubt that Al Qaeda is present in the Palestinian territories and that this presence, especially in Gaza, is facilitated by Hamas.”

IDF military intelligence officials said at the time that Al Qaeda terrorists were among the hundreds of other terrorists who infiltrated the region after Hamas blew up the security barrier on the Egyptian-Gaza border in January 2008.

Shalit’s Kidnappers Linked to Al Qaeda

One of the three terrorist groups that participated in the June 2006 kidnapping of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, the “Army of Islam” (Jaysh al-Islam), run by the Doghmush clan, has been linked to Al Qaeda. It is also known as “the organization of Al Qaeda in Palestine.”

Although the Doghmush group originally was close to Hamas, the relationship eventually fell apart. At present, the Army of Islam is shunned by both the Hamas and Fatah factions of the Palestinian Authority. Based in the Zabra neighborhood in central Gaza, the group was also responsible for the 2007 kidnapping of BBC bureau chief Alan Johnston, who was held hostage for 114 days. Johnston was eventually freed after Hamas officials arrested several Army of Islam members, including the group’s spokesman.

(For an analysis of Hamas-al Qaeda connections, see Dr. Dore Gold's article in Opinion section)