The Twitter account of the Ibn Taymiyyah Center, affiliated with the global jihad in the Gaza Strip (The Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem), announces the death in Syria of Wissam Muhammad al-Atal from the Gaza Strip (apparently during a suicide bombing attack). The black flag in the background bears the logo of the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (November 2, 2013).
Scope and Significance
1. In our assessment, so far about 20 Israeli Arabs have joined the ranks of the rebels in Syria, as well as 30 Palestinians from the Gaza Strip and a few from Judea and Samaria. There are also several dozen Palestinians from the refugee camps in Lebanon who have joined the rebels (especially from Ein al-Hilweh near Sidon) and Palestinians from Syria and Jordan. Most of them are apparently Salafi-jihadists who join organizations affiliated with Al-Qaeda and the global jihad.
2. Only a limited number (relative to other countries) of Israeli Arabs and Palestinians from Gaza Strip, Judea and Samaria have gone to fight in Syria so far. In our assessment that is primarily because of the security and logistic difficulties involved. However, the fact that they join the ranks of the rebels raises potential threats for Israel. Most of them will probably join organizations affiliated with Al-Qaeda and the global jihad where they will acquire military skills and have their jihadist worldview reinforced. In Syria they can be expected to form ties with Al-Qaeda and global jihad operatives who may try to handle them for terrorist missions when they return from the fighting.
3. The recruitment of Israeli Arabs into the ranks of the Syrian rebels is well-known, even though so far its scope is limited. The first Israeli Arab went to fight in Syria in November 2012. It is difficult to ascertain their exact numbers because families refuse to expose their departure lest their offspring be put at risk, but it is estimated that there are at least 20. So far one Israeli Arab is known to have been killed in the fighting. The detention and interrogation of three Israeli Arabs who returned from Syria clearly illustrated the potential danger of such fighters, in that two of the three were asked by jihad organizations to carry out terrorist activities in Israel.
4. Most of the Israeli Arabs who fight in Syria are in their 20s, go there individuals and are not sent in an organized fashion. They use Turkey as their travel hub (as do most of the foreign fighters). Most of them led devout Islamic religious lives before they went. Arriving in Syria most of them joind the Al-Nusra Front and other Al-Qaeda-affiliated organizations. In our assessment most of them have not yet returned.
5. In some instances returning fighters were detained and one of them was sentenced to 30 months in jail. The Israel Security Agency (ISA) regards Israeli Arabs who go to Syria as a grave potential threat. Not only do they receive military training, but they are exposed to the extremist ideology and influence of the global jihad organizations and may be exploited by terrorist elements to collect intelligence and possibly to carry out terrorist attacks against Israel (ISA website, August 21, 2013).
6. The cases of two Israeli Arabs requested by global jihad operatives in Syria to carry out terrorist activities in Israel illustrate the potential threat of the returnees:
1) Husam Nidal Yusuf Hujla: Born in 1988, a resident of Jaljulia (an Israeli-Arab village in central Israel near Kfar Saba). He went to Syria to join the ranks of the rebels. He said that while in Syria he had belonged to two groups of Islamist rebels. He underwent military training, participated in the fighting and engaged in ongoing security missions. While in Syria he was requested, on returning to Israel, to join the ranks of the "resistance" and carry out armed activities in Israel or use "cold tactics" (poisoning the water supply, arson and writing slogans on walls). When he returned to Israel he was detained and indicted on November 18, 2013.
2) Hikmat Othman Hussein Masarwa: Born in 1984, a resident of Taibeh (an Israeli Arab city located in the center of the country near Kfar Saba). He was detained on March 19, 2013, by the ISA and the Israel Police when he flew back to Israel from Turkey. Masarwa went to Syria in November 2012 and joined global jihad fighters. He was given military training in a rebel camp. While in Syria he was interrogated about Israel and the IDF. He was offered the opportunity to carry out a suicide bombing attack in Syria or an attack in Israel after he returned, but he refused. He returned to Israel via Turkey and was detained on arrival. On October 4, 2013, he was indicted and sentenced to 30 months in jail.
Other Israeli Arabs Who Fought in Syria
7. Abd al-Qader Afif Abd al-Qader al-Ti'la: Born in 1987, a resident of Taibeh, fought in the ranks of the Al-Nusra Front in Syria. He was detained on July 14, 2013. Abd al-Ti'la was a pharmacy student in Jordan, where he met Iraqi and Palestinian students who supported Salafist-jihadi Islam. Under their influence he adopted Salafist ideology. During interrogation he admitted he had gone to Syria to join the jihad and while there appealed to an Al-Nusra Front representative, who recruited him to the organization (ISA website, August 21, 2013). He spent only three days in Syria, after which he decided to return to Israel via Turkey, and was detained at Ben-Gurion International Airport. He was indicted on August 9, 2013.
8. Muhammad Yassin: Born in 1988, a resident of Tamra (an Israeli-Arab village in the Lower Galilee to the east of Acre). On a leave of absence from an Israeli jail (he was sentenced to life imprisonment and had served seven years) he crossed the border from Israel into Syria through the Golan Heights with the help of his brother and a friend. According to a friend, while in Syria he joined the Free Syrian Army. His family claims to be in contact with him but says they don't know where he is.
9. Muayeid Zaki Aghbaria (aka Abu Mus'ab al-Falistini): Born in 1985, married, a resident of the village of Mushayrife in Wadi Ara (south of Haifa). He was apparently the first Israeli Arab killed in Syria. According to statements from friends he never hid his sympathy for jihad and regarded Al-Qaeda commanders as role models. Wanting to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq, in 2006 he crossed the border into Jordan, and planned from there to cross into Iraq and join the rebels. However, his father went after him and brought him home. In August 2013 he disappeared, having joined the Al-Nusra Front apparently without his family's knowledge (BBC website, October 2, 2013). He was killed on September 17, 2013 (Shaghor.com).
10. "Khatab:" Born in 1993, a resident of Haifa. On October 6, 2013, the France 24 TV channel broadcast a report about a young man nicknamed "Khatab." He had gone to Syria to "perform his duty of jihad," although he said he had no military experience. According to the report, he was a mechanical engineer who often made work-related trips to Britain. He said he had gone to Syria after having contacted people there through the social networks. First he went to Turkey, and from there was taken to the border where he crossed into the northwestern Syrian town of Azaz, and was later taken to the region of Latakia. He said he fought in the ranks of the Al-Nusra Front and planned to go to Homs after having fought in the battles in the region of Al-Hama. He said he had met a number of Israeli Arabs in Syria in regions near Latakia and Idlib.
Death Notices for Israeli Arab Killed in Syria
Left: A notice of Muayeid Zaki Aghbaria (aka Abu Mus'ab al-Falistini) on a Facebook page providing information on the foreign fighters killed in Syria.
Right: Death notice issued for Muayeid Zaki Aghbaria (aka Abu Mus'ab al-Falistini) by the Ibn Taymiyyah Center, the information wing of the Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem (the Shura Council is a terrorist organization in the Gaza Strip affiliated with the global jihad)
Poster announcing the death of Muayeid Zaki Aghbaria (aka Abu Mus'ab al-Falistini) hung on the wall of his family's house in the village of Mushayrife in Wadi Ara. The poster's center is the black and white emblem of Al-Qaeda.
The Palestinian Authority
11. In our assessment, so far only a small number of Palestinians have joined the ranks of the Syrian rebels, and on their own initiative. In all probability that is because Salafist-jihadi Islam is not significant in Judea and Samaria and the activities of the Salafi-jihadists are not institutionalized and organized as they are in the Gaza Strip. In our assessment, the Palestinians from Judea and Samaria who joined the rebels in Syria were motivated by and found information about enlistment on the Internet, especially the Salafist-jihadi sites. As opposed to the Gaza Strip, Palestinians from Judea and Samaria pass into Syria through Jordan.
Foreign Fighters in Syria from the PA
12. Feisal Izz al-Din: Born 1990, a Palestinian from Ramallah. He trained as a nurse in the United States. He went to Syria to provide humanitarian and medical assistance, and was killed on January 4, 2013 (Rightsidenews.com website, April 24, 2013).
13. Muntasar al-Zeituni: From Ramallah. He was killed in an Al-Nusra Front military activity in Idlib on September 4, 2012. A former Hamas operative, he was imprisoned in Israel for 18 months. He left Hamas and became a Salafi-jihadist. He went to Jordan in 2009 to study Islamic religious law (Sharia) at Al-Yarmuk University. When the rebellion broke out he left Jordan and went to Syria where he joined the Ahrar al-Sham movement and later moved to the Al-Nusra Front (ICT.org.il website).
Left: Feisal Izz al-Din from Ramallah, killed in Syria (Onlinejihadexposed.com website, April 17, 2014). Right: Muntasar al-Zeituni (Tabee3i.com website)
The Gaza Strip
14. In our assessment, there are approximately 30 Gazans fighting in Syria. Most of them are operatives of Salafist-jihadi networks in the Gaza Strip, in some instances operatives who left the ranks of Hamas and currently have no clear organizational affiliation; at least some of them are well-educated. Apparently their numbers grew in 2013. At least eight of them were killed in the war. In our assessment, Gazans go to Syria by going to Libya from Egypt and from there to Turkey (although in some instances they arrive in Turkey from Saudi Arabia, where they go on the pretext of making a pilgrimage to Mecca). The tense relations between Egypt and Hamas, and the activities against the tunnels carried out by the Egyptian security forces on the Egypt-Gaza border are obstacles to Gazans seeking to go to Syria and in our assessment reduces their number.
15. On February 17, 2013, Abu al-Ghana'a al-Ansari, a senior operative in one of the Salafist-jihadi organizations in the Gaza Strip, noted that some 20-30 young men had left the Gaza Strip for Syria to participate in the fighting alongside global jihad organizations, such as the Al-Nusra Front. They are mainly young operatives from Gazan Salafist organizations who are persecuted by the Hamas security forces (Al-Quds, February 17, 2013). According to a German news agency, dozens of Salafist-jihadi operatives have left the Gaza Strip for Syria via Turkey (DPA, March 18, 2013). Al-Watan TV reported that dozens of Salafist-jihadi operatives, some of them former Hamas operatives,went to Syria via Turkey. They joined jihadist groups fighting the Syrian regime, especially the Al-Nusra Front.
16. The Salafist movement in the Gaza Strip has publicly expressed support for the fighting against the Syrian regime. On January 20, 2013, the Jihad Forum posted a recorded speech given by Abu Abdullah al-Ghazi, a senior Jaish al-Ummah operative. In his speech he claimed the Middle East had to become an "open market" for jihad. Nine days earlier he posted a video dedicated to the fighters in Syria. It gave detailed instructions for manufacturing a 107 mm rocket, including materials and quantities (www.longwarjournal.org, August 28, 2013).
17. The Ibn Taymiyyah Center and other jihadist forums customarily document the Palestinians from the Gaza Strip killed in the fighting in Syria (See death notices below).On September 28, 2013, the Center issued a notice stating that between July 28, 2012 and September 17, 2013 five Palestinians had been killed in the fighting in Syria and that one of them was an Israeli Arab (Longwarjournal.org website, October 1, 2013).
18. Hamas is basically hostile to the Syrian regime but as a movement is not involved in the fighting. Nevertheless, in our assessment the de-facto Hamas administration in the Gaza Strip turns a blind eye to the Salafist-jihadi operatives who leave Gaza for Syria and does not prevent them from joining the fighting. That might be because Hamas wants to "export" potential opponents to external conflict zones or because of its fundamental hostility to Syria. Moreover, in certain instances where former Hamas operatives were killed, Hamas itself issued the death notices and even erected mourning tents.
Left: A picture of Fahd Nizar al-Habbash, hung at the entrance to the mourning tent erected by Hamas. Al-Habbash, who fought in the ranks of the Al-Nusra Front, was formerly a member of the Hamas police force in the Gaza Strip. Right: A poster dedicated to al-Habbash' memory. He wears the uniform of the Hamas police intervention and order-enforcing unit. The caption in blue reads "the shaheed jihad fighter Fahd Nizar al-Habbash" (Hamas forum website, August 1, 2013).
Gazans Killed in the Fighting in Syria
19. Saad Harb Shaalan: Born 1990, from Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip, was affiliated with the Salafist movement and apparently joined the ranks of the Al-Nusra Front. He was killed on June 18, 2013, in fighting the Syrian army in Idlib (or in Aleppo, according to a different report). Approximately a month after his arrival in Syria, his brother Khaledwas killed during an activity carried out by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad's (PIJ) military-terrorist wing (Facebook; Al-Quds, June 19, 2013).
20. Muhammad Ahmad Qanita, aka Abu Abd Al-Rahman: Married with three children. He was a jihadist operative and former Hamas operative. He was killed in Syria in a rocket attack in December 2012 while fighting in the ranks of the Al-Nusra Front near the airport in Aleppo. He grew up in a religious home and was raised to hate Israel. When he was 12 he was wounded while throwing stones. He joined the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, served as an instructor and fought the IDF in Operation Cast Lead. After the Operation he joined the Salafist-jihadi ranks and trained groups of combatants. He wanted to go to Chechnya but did not succeed, and instead went to Mecca and from there to Syria. In Syria he supervised the training of the Al-Nusra Front, or according to a different version, the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (Longwarjournal.org website, March 15, 2013). After his death Hamas declared him a shaheed (BBC, December 15, 2013).
21. Fahd Nizar al-Habbash: Born 1985, previously served in the Hamas police force in the Gaza Strip. He was killed fighting in the ranks of the Al-Nusra Front in Homs on July 19, 2013. After graduation in 2006 he married and fathered two children. When the uprising in Syria began he was determined to go there to fight (Longwarjournal.org website, October 1, 2013). He told his family he was going to Turkey to look for a better job. His brother told the BBC that in view of the calm in the Gaza Strip he wanted to fight Shi'ites in Syria (BBC News, December 15, 2013). The videotape of his will was posted by the Ibn Taymiyyah Media Center (Longwarjournal.org website, August 28, 2013). The Hamas police force in the northern Gaza Strip, his former employer, issued a notice of his death and erected a mourning tent (Hamas forum website, August 17, 2013).
22. Nidal al-Ashi, aka Abu Hureira al-Maqdasi and Abu Omar al-Shami: Belonged to a jihadist organization in the Gaza Strip called the Army of Islam. He was killed in July 2012 in Aleppo (Longwarjournal.org website, July 28, 2012). According to a statement issued at the time of his death by the Army of Islam, he had been detained by Hamas for harassing Christians in the Gaza Strip and later fled to Syria (Longwarjournal.org website, October 1, 2013).
23. Osama Abu Khattab: Fought in the ranks of the Free Syrian Army. He was formerly a Hamas operative in the Gaza Strip who moved to Jordan and from there to Syria. He was killed in June 2013 (Centerfordocumentation.com website).
24. Muhammad Jihad al-Zaanein, aka Abu Anas: Was a student from Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip who belonged to a Salafist network. He had been detained by Hamas a number of times. He was killed fighting in the ranks of the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham, the Syrian branch of Al-Qaeda in Iraq. A mourning tent was set up in his memory in Beit Hanoun (Longwarjournal.org website, October 1, 2013). His family said he had gone to Saudi Arabia on a pilgrimage and from there to studies in Turkey, while in reality he had gone to join the rebels in Syria. Family members who spoke with him before his death said he told them they would meet in paradise (BBC, November 26, 2013).
25. Wissam al-Atal, aka Abu Muhammad al-Filastini: 30-35 years old, was a dentist from Jabaliya in the northern Gaza Strip. He was killed in Syria, according to reports, during a “jihad mission," apparently a suicide bombing attack. He left the Gaza Strip in December 2012 and went to Turkey, and from there to Syria. His family only learned that he had gone to Syria two months before he was killed. His death was announced on November 2, on the Ibn Taymiyyah Center’s Twitter page (Longwarjournal.org website, November 3, 2013). A few days before his death he was photographed wearing an explosive belt.
26. A'mer Abu Ghola, aka Abu Obeida al-Muhajer: Born 1984 , Salafist activist from Nuseirat in the central Gaza Strip. He was detained by Hamas for his involvement in the murder of Italian correspondent Vittorio Arrigoni in April 2011. He escaped from the Gaza Strip and joined the ranks of Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria. He was killed on December 13, 2013 in a battle against Hezbollah forces and the Syrian army in the region of Aleppo (Al-Quds, November 14, 2013).
27. Osama Ahmed Hamdam Kishta: Resident of Rafah, nephew of senior Hamas figure Osama Hamdan (currently responsible for Hamas information and in the past Hamas representative in Lebanon). Kishta was a senior military operative in Hamas' military-terrorist wing, participated in the war in Libya, entered Syria through Turkey and joined the Al-Nusra Front. He was killed in the Yarmuk refugee camp on February 13, 2013 (Syriatruce website, February 21, 2013).
Death Notices for Gazans Killed in Syria
28. A list of foreign fighters killed in Syria from "Palestine" mentioned the name of Abu Hamam al-Falistini. He was a commander (emir) in the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria. He was killed during the fight in Hama on August 11, 2013 (Al-Manbar al-Eilami al-Jihadi, August 21, 2013; Shaghor.com)
Abu Hamam al-Falistini (Shaghor.com)
29. In our assessment, there are dozens of Palestinians from the refugee camps in Syria and Lebanon fighting in the ranks of the rebels in Syria, especially in the Al-Nusra Front, some of whom died in the fighting.
30. According to the Lebanese website NOW (October 29, 2013), about 15 men from Islamic jihadist groups in the Ein al-Hilweh refugee camp (near Sidon) joined the fighting in Syria. They joined the Al-Nusra Front and other rebel organizations. The Ein al-Hilweh refugee camp is a Salafist-jihadi stronghold, and some of the refugees identify with Al-Qaeda and the global jihad.
31. On November 28, 2013, the Al-Arabia Al-Hadath TV channel posted a video on YouTube of a campaign conducted in the Ein al-Hilweh refugee camp to enlist volunteers to fight in Syria. According to information from the Lebanese newspaper Al-Joumhouria, the campaign was conducted via the Internet in one of the neighborhoods of the refugee camp. Young camp residents volunteered and were enlisted in the Al-Nusra Front or the jihadist organization Abdullah Azzam Brigades. Local Salafist-jihadi sheikhs, such as Sheikh Jamal Khattab, participated in the campaign.
Palestinians from Syria and Lebanon Killed in the Fighting
32. Maher Muhammad Bakher Sakr, aka Abu Aziz al-Maqdasi: Palestinian who joined the Al-Nusra Front, participated in the campaign for Al-Qusayr and was killed by the Syrian army on May 18, 2013, a month and a half after he joined (Alquds.com website).
33. Ibrahim Mubarak, aka Abu Sajed: Palestinian from the Ein al-Hilweh refugee camp killed at Al-Qusayr at the end of May 2013. He fought in the ranks of the Al-Nusra Front (Lebanondebate.com website).
34. Mahmoud Abd al-Qader, aka Abu Obeida al-Maqdasi: Palestinian from the Ein al-Hilweh refugee camp killed while fighting in the ranks of the Al-Nusra Front in the battle for Al-Qusayr on January 21, 1013 (Arabic.rt.com website).
35. Muhammad al-Dahoudi, aka Abu Omar al-Shami: Resident of the Ein al-Hilweh refugee camp killed at the end of November 2013. He was the son of one of the companions of the jihadi Islamist sheikh Jamal Khattab (Abu Mustafa al-Dahoudi) (NOW, Lebanon, November 24, 2013).
36. Muhammad al-Doukhi, aka al-Khurduq: Resident of the Ein al-Hilweh refugee camp belonging to one of the jihadist groups that left Lebanon to fight in Syria in the ranks of the Al-Nusra Front and other rebel organizations (NOW, Lebanon, November 29, 2013).
37. A video was posted on YouTube of an Al-Nusra Front fighter of Syrian-Palestinian extraction who was detained by the Syrian authorities. He told the Sky News correspondent who interviewed a number of jihadists in Syria detained in December 2012 that he had fought in the ranks of Al-Qaeda in Iraq and been deeply influenced by the radical Islamic ideology of Abu Qatada, a jihadist ideologue who lived in Britain and was deported to Jordan (YouTube).