A Palestinian jihadist military trainer and commander who was a member of the Tawhid and Jihad Group in Jerusalem and who previously served with Hamas was killed in Syria while fighting for the Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant, al Qaeda’s affiliate in the country.
The Ibn Taymiyyah Media Center, “the official source for releases from the Mujahideen Shura Council (MSC) in the Environs of Jerusalem,” according to the SITE Intelligence Group, released a video to jihadist forums on March 12 about Muhammad Ahmed Qanitah.
Qanitah, who is also known as Abu Abdul Rahman, was killed in a rocket attack in December while fighting for the Al Nusrah Front during the siege of the airport in Aleppo, according to the videotape.
The biography in the video stated that Qanitah “grew up with a religious family and was raised to hate the ‘Jewish enemy,'” according to a summary of the video by the SITE Intelligence Group. “He learned martial arts and threw stones at the enemies and was injured when he was 12 years old.”
The narrator of the video said Qanitah joined Hamas’ Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades of Hamas in 2003. “He came to know its leaders and worked with them and trained its fighters, and he participated in many jihadi actions and attacks against the settlements.” He fought against the Israeli military during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in 2009, “and he continued participating in al-Qassam Brigades and the ‘cleansing’ of Gaza to live under Shariah-based governance,” the SITE summary said.
At some point following Cast Lead, Qanitah became disenchanted with Hamas and turned to the Salafist jihadist groups in Gaza. Eventually Qanitah was introduced to Sheikh Abu al Walid al Maqdisi, the leader of the Tawhid and Jihad Group in Jerusalem. Qanitah subsequently began training “the group’s fighters and supervised some military operations.”
According to the narrator, Qanitah realized that he was likely going to be targeted by Israel, so he attempted to go to Chechnya. After failing to reach Chechnya, Qanitah traveled to Mecca and then traveled to Syria. Once in Syria, he supervised military training for the al-Fajr Islamic Movement and the al-Nusra Front and “participated in bombing operations.”
In a segment of the video showing Qanitah giving his will, he says “heart was torn apart when I saw women being raped in Levantine Syria, and children being killed, houses destroyed and elderly murdered by those criminals, the tyrant Bashar al-Assad and his Alawite Shi’ite henchmen.” He concludes that “it was our duty to emigrate in the Cause of Allah to the Levant to help our mujahideen brothers.”
Qanitah was buried in Syria. Interestingly, despite his affiliation with Salafi jihadist groups, Hamas reportedly “handled his funeral service, out of respect for his history.”
Palestinian jihadists travel to Syria to wage jihad
Qanitah is not the first Palestinian jihadist to have been killed during fighting in Aleppo. Last July, a Palestinian fighter from the al Qaeda-linked Army of Islam was killed during fighting in Aleppo.
In recent weeks, numerous press reports have indicated a rise in the number of Palestinians joining the fight against Assad in Syria. Many of those traveling to Syria have been Salafi jihadists who joined the Al Nusrah Front.
Salafi jihadists in the Gaza Strip have expressed support for the fight in Syria and provided military tips in statements issued over the past couple months.
On Jan. 20, 2013, an audio speech from Abu Abdullah al-Ghazi, an Army of the Ummah official, was released to jihadist forums. In the speech, which was obtained and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group, al Ghazi said that the Levant should be seen as an open “market of jihad.” In addition, he called on fighters to “[t]ake the initiative and rise to establish the Islamic State in the Levant and reestablish the rule of Allah over His land after you pluck out that criminal tyrant [Assad] and retaliate for the blood that was spelt and the honors that were violated.”
Nine days before this audio speech was released, a video from the Army of the Ummah was released to jihadist forums. In the video, which was dedicated to fighters in Syria, the group showed “how to manufacture a 107mm rocket,” according to SITE. The video also “provided recommendations about substitute materials and quantities depending on the size of the rocket.”
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 November 2012, the Israeli Air Force targeted a number of MSC members. On Oct. 7, the IDF killed Tala’at Halil Muhammad Jarbi, a “global jihad operative,” and Abdullah Muhammad Hassan Maqawai, a member of the MSC. Maqawai was likely a former member of Palestinian Islamic Jihad. 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.
Tawhid and Jihad Group in Jerusalem
The Tawhid and Jihad Group in Jerusalem announced its formation in a statement released on jihadist forums in August 2009. In the same announcement, the Tawhid and Jihad Group in Jerusalem denounced a raid by Hamas against a Jund Ansar Allah mosque that killed Latif Moussa. Hamas killed Moussa and several followers after he declared an Islamic emirate in Gaza and challenged Hamas’s authority. Al Maqdisi had studied under Moussa.
The Tawhid and Jihad Group in Jerusalem has claimed credit for numerous attacks against Israeli security forces and civilians. In multiple statements released on jihadist forums, the terror group has claimed to have launched rocket and mortar attacks into Israel, as well as IED attacks against Israeli soldiers.
Tawhid and Jihad has also expressed its affinity with al Qaeda’s top leaders. In June 2010, the group released a statement eulogizing Mustafa Abu Yazid, one al Qaeda’s top leaders who was killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan. Tawhid and Jihad said Yazid’s death was the latest among “a generation” of martyred al Qaeda leaders such as “Abu Musab al Zarqawi, Abu Omar al Baghdadi, Abu Hamza al Muhajir, Abu al Laith al Libi, and Yusuf al Ayiri, who will turn the life of their enemy into unbearable hell and send them after that to eternal perdition where the Lord of the Worlds is the judge,” according to a translation of the statement by the SITE Intelligence Group.
In addition, the terror group has expressed solidarity with the Islamic Caucasus Emirates, al Qaeda’s affiliate in southern Russia, and eulogized Emir Sayfullah, who was the terror group’s top judge was well as its leader in Dagestan before he was killed in August 2011.