Abdullah Jihad al Ashqar (a.k.a. Abu al-Muhtasib al Maqdisi), an official in the Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem, has slammed the recent arrests of Salafi jihadists in the Gaza Strip by Hamas. In the video, which was uploaded to jihadist forms on Feb. 22 and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group, al Ashqar also alleges that Hamas has attempted to arrest him.
Al Ashqar begins by noting that it has been just over four months since Abu al Walid al Maqdisi and Ashraf al Sabah were killed in an air strike by the Israeli Air Force. According to al Ashqar, following the deaths of al Maqdisi and al Sabah, Hamas actually eased their “pursuits and decreas[ed] their detainment of Salafist mujahideen in the Gaza Strip.”
Recently the situation has changed, however, al Ashqar says, as “the policy of detaining returned, as did pursuing, kidnapping, and storming homes, and then capturing and torturing in the prisons of the so-called domestic security agency.” Al Ashqar alleges that some of the Salafi jihadists who were recently arrested have been tortured in Hamas’ prisons and had their bones broken.
Al Ashqar notes that the recent arrests come at a time of “serious security and regional events.” He specifically notes recent meetings between Israeli and Egyptian officials as well as the ongoing indirect negotiations between Israel and Hamas, which are mediated by Egypt. In addition, al Ashqar contends that Hamas is showing less interest than usual in Egypt’s destruction of smuggling tunnels between Egypt and the Gaza Strip. According to al Ashqar, in the past Hamas would “fill the whole world with screams when one tunnel was destroyed,” but now he says they appear to be plotting with Egypt.
Al Ashqar also warns that pressure on the Salafi jihadists in Gaza will not stop their activities, and that history has shown that such pressure only led the Salafi jihadists to work “with greater secrecy, organization and precision.”
With regard to the ceasefire that brought an end to Operation Pillar of Defense, al Ashqar reiterates an earlier claim by the MSC that it was not a party to the deal. According to al Ashqar, the Salafi jihadists have not carried out attacks because they wanted to make those who claim “the Salafists have no concern other than ruining things for Hamas and bringing woes to Muslims” miss an opportunity to blame the Salafi jihadists.
Al Ashqar had previously praised the Salafi jihadist groups operating in the Gaza Strip and Sinai for their efforts fighting Israel during Operation Pillar of Defense. He specifically directed his praise toward the MSC, Ansar Jerusalem, the Army of Islam, and the Army of the Ummah. “They spared no effort in directing the strikes against the Jews despite the primitive equipment and lack of capability,” al Ashqar said.
Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem
The Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem (MSC) is a consolidation of a number of Salafi jihadist groups operating in the Gaza Strip including, but not limited to: Tawhid and Jihad Group in Jerusalem, and Ansar al Sunnah. Sheikh Anas Abdul Rahman, one of MSC’s leaders, has said that the group aims to “fight the Jews for the return of Islam’s rule, not only in Palestine, but throughout the world.”
The MSC has taken responsibility for a number of rocket attacks against Israel as well as the June 18, 2012 attack that killed one Israeli civilian. In November 2012, the group carried out joint rocket attacks with the Army of Islam. Following the institution of a ceasefire that ended Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense, the MSC said that it was not truly a party to the ceasefire.
In July 2012, the MSC released a 38-minute-long video in which it said that the June attack was “a gift to our brothers in Qaedat al Jihad and Sheikh Zawahiri” and retaliation for the death of Osama bin Laden. On Oct. 22, the MSC released a 32-minute-long video detailing some of its rocket attacks against Israel and threatening to “fight you [Israel] as long as we hold…weapons in our hands.”
In 2012, the Israeli Air Force targeted a number of MSC members. On Oct. 7, the IDF targeted Tala’at Halil Muhammad Jarbi, a “global jihad operative,” and Abdullah Muhammad Hassan Maqawai, a member of the MSC. Maqawai, likely a former member of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, died of his wounds. On Oct. 13, Israel killed Abu al Walid al Maqdisi, the former emir of the Tawhid and Jihad Group in Jerusalem, and Ashraf al Sabah, the former emir of Ansar al Sunnah, in an airstrike. The two men were said to be leaders of the MSC.