Sheikh Abd al-Latif Musa
Armed jihadist operative in the Sheikh Al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah mosque in Rafah
|Right: Armed jihadist operative in the Sheikh Al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah mosque in Rafah. Left: Sheikh Abd al-Latif Musa, one of the leaders of the jihadi-Salafist networks in the Gaza Strip, with his armed bodyguards, delivers a sermon viciously attacking Hamas and proclaiming the establishment of an Islamic emirate in Palestine (Hamas’s PALDF forum, August 14, 2009).|
1. On August 14, 2009 there were violent confrontations in Rafah (southern Gaza Strip) between Hamas and jihadi-Salafist operatives.1 Prominent among the jihadists were operatives of the Jund Ansar Allah ("the army of Allah’s supporters”) network, which is affiliated with the global jihad. The confrontations began when Sheikh Abd al-Latif Musa, accepted by the jihadi-Salafist networks as a senior religious authority, delivered a Friday sermon in the Sheikh Al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah mosque2 in Rafah. The sermon strongly condemned the Hamas de-facto administration and proclaimed the establishment of an Islamic emirate in Palestine.
2. In response to what Hamas considered a challenge to its rule, Hamas security forces broke into the mosque and evacuated it by force. They were joined by operatives from the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades military-terrorist wing. Twenty-four Palestinians were killed in the battles in and around the mosque, and about 130 were wounded, among them jihadi-Salafist operatives, Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades operatives and civilians who were in the mosque or its vicinity at the time. Among the dead were two senior jihadists, Sheikh Abd al-Latif Musa (a source of religious and ideological authority for the jihadi-Salafist networks who was embraced by Jund Ansar Allah) and Khaled Banath, nicknamed Abu Abdallah al-Suri (military leader of Jund Ansar Allah). The Hamas forces did not hesitate to shoot at the mosque deliberately and inflict serious damage.
3. Behind the violent confrontations were the penetration of global jihad ideas into the Gaza Strip and the strengthening of the jihadi-Salafist networks. The networks affiliated themselves with Al-Qaeda and strive to implement by force the immediate imposition of Islamic religious law (sharia’), as was customary during the days of the prophet Muhammad ( 7th century AD) and the first generations of Islam. They strictly adhere to an ongoing jihad, at any cost and in any location, demonstrate religious fanaticism and have no tolerance for the West and its values. It is ironic that the jihadi-Salafist networks are prospering and challenging Hamas specifically at a time when it has control over the Gaza Strip and is methodically Islamizing it (but apparently not quickly enough for them).
4. The networks, which include operatives who split from Hamas because it was too pragmatic for them, are called jaljalat (an Arabic verb meaning "to echo loudly”) by the Gazans. (Full explanation of the verb in Paragraph 28). The most prominent among them are the Jund Ansar Allah (which was behind the failed showcase terrorist attack planned to be carried out at the Nahal Oz fuel terminal) and the Army of Islam (which participated in the abduction of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit). Both networks are affiliated with Al-Qaeda and the global jihad.
5. Hamas felt itself threatened by the increased activity and influence of the jihadi-Salafist networks even though they cannot undermine its control of the Gaza Strip. It is extremely difficult for Hamas to deal with them. On the one hand, they and Hamas have a broad common denominator of radical Islamic ideology, but on the other, Hamas is a national-Palestinian movement responsible for the welfare of 1.5 million Gazans, which forces it to maneuver between ideology and the exigencies of its rule. Thus Hamas, since it entered the Palestinian political arena, and especially since it took over the Gaza Strip, has had to demonstrate tactical pragmatism as opposed to adherence to ideology and strategy. It has done so by the way it Islamizes the Gaza Strip (gradually and with an ear to the reactions of the Gazans); with regard to its terrorist policy of attacking Israel (having adopted a policy of intermittent restraint; and in its dealings with the West, particularly the United States (keeping a "smile spin” since Barack Obama was elected).
6. As a result of its problematical attitude toward the jihadi-Salafist networks, until the incident at the Ibn Taymiyyah mosque in Rafah, Hamas showed great tolerance for them. It did not directly confront them with violence, as opposed to the brutality shown toward other powerful groups in the Gaza Strip which tried to challenge it (Fatah, for example, or influential clans such as Hilles and Dugmush). Hamas tried to contain their activities, primarily through occasional detentions of their operatives (some of whom tried to fire rockets into Israeli territory contrary to Hamas’ current policy), by increasing its oversight of the mosques (through its Ministry of Religious Endowments), and occasionally even by persuading network operatives to join the ranks of Hamas. However, apparently on this occasion Hamas’ patience was at an end, and it regarded the incident at the Ibn Taymiyyah mosque as a direct public challenge to its control which necessitated a swift response.
7. An analysis of the incident at the Ibn Taymiyyah mosque and the relationship between Hamas and the jihadi-Salafist networks allows us to draw several conclusions:
i) Increased Hamas control over the Gaza Strip: The events were an additional step in the process which Hamas began in the summer of 2007 to increase its grip over the Gaza Strip and suppress other forces. Since then Hamas has gradually used the means at its disposal to enforce its control. However, when challenged either ideologically or with regard to security and its policies, Hamas has not hesitated to use brutal force to suppress the challenge, deploying its security forces and integrating the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades into them.
ii) The Islamization process of the Gaza Strip will continue the way and at the pace Hamas decides, and not the way the jihadi-Salafist networks would expect: The process encompasses all facets of civilian life and in our assessment will continue gradually to avoid both internal and external opposition. Hamas can also be expected not to make provocative statements, such as the establishment of an Islamic emirate in the Gaza Strip, which might lead to negative reactions from Egypt and other pro-Western Arab countries. The Islamization process will be undertaken in a way that will not unduly upset the Gazans and will enable it to both rebuild the Gaza Strip and to regain its military capabilities for the struggle against Israel.
iii) Hamas will continue hampering the activities of the jihadi-Salafist networks, in all probability more than in the past: However, because of the damage done to Hamas’ image by its attack on Islamic operatives and symbols, in our assessment it will avoid, insofar as is possible, frontal confrontations with them, on the condition that they do not retaliate or continue challenging Hamas control. Instead, Hamas will use the means available to it to gradually weaken them (detentions, preventive activities of the security forces, working through the Ministry of Religious Endowments against the mosques controlled by the networks, propaganda and preaching, etc.).
iv) The Jund Ansar Allah network suffered a serious blow during the incident at the Ibn Taymiyyah mosque when most of its leadership was eliminated. However, in our assessment, the back of the jihadi-Salafist networks in the Gaza Strip has not been broken. They can be expected to continue their activities unabated, even if it means keeping a low profile in the short term. On the other hand, it is possible that to make themselves felt and in retaliation for the incidents in Rafah they may try to carry out a provocative action which will challenge and embarrass Hamas (for example, an attack against Hamas institutions or a showcase attack on Israel which will lead to a deterioration of the situation on the ground).
v) Hamas’ "smile spin,” aimed at the West and particularly at the United States, may, in our assessment, be reinforced. Hamas will represent itself (not only to the West, but possibly also to Egypt and pro-Western Arab countries) as not hesitating to use force against networks affiliated with Al-Qaeda, as preserving the ceasefire with Israel and as prepared not to raise obstacles to the peace process. At the same time it will adhere to its basic ideology, which centers around refusing to recognize the existence of Israel and pursuing the path of "resistance” (i.e., terrorism and violence) as a way of solving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict (even if it is done gradually with occasional lulls in the fighting).
8. This document is divided into the following sections:
A) Section 1: An analysis of the events at the Ibn Taymiyyah mosque in Rafah.
B) Section 2: Increased activity of jihadi-Salafist networks in the Gaza Strip.
C) Section 3: How Hamas deals with jihadi-Salafist networks.
D) Appendices: i) Appendix I: General description of the jihadi-Salafist networks in the Gaza Strip.
ii) Appendix II: Interview in Al-Ayyam with an operative who identified himself as
one of the leaders of the jaljalat (July 11, 2009).
iii) Appendix III: The Islamic song "Jaljalat,” popular with jihadi-Salafist networks
around the globe.
iv) Appendix IV: Translation of a flyer issued by a jaljalat network on July 17, 2009.
1 Salafism is an Islamic movement which favors the tenets of Islam according to the first generations, which are considered role models. During the past few decades Salafism had turned from a fundamentalist Islamic idea to a radical political ideology held by extremist Muslims operating in the Middle East and around the world (including Al-Qaeda).
2 The mosque is named for an Islamic theologian and religious judge active in the 14th century who is considered an extremely important religious authority. To this day his writings serve as the basis for the ideology of various radical Islamic movements, among them Al-Qaeda.