On May 7, the Ibn Taymiyyah Media Center, a jihadist media unit tied to the Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs (MSC), released an audio message from MSC official Abdullah Jihad al Ashqar (Abu al Muhtasib al Maqdisi) to jihadist forums and their various social networking accounts.
In the message, which was obtained and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group, al Ashqar praised Hithem Ziad Ibrahim Masshal, a well-known jihadist in the Gaza Strip who was killed in an airstrike by the Israeli Air Force on April 30. Al Ashqar lauded Masshal and said that he had “never visited him [Masshal] without finding his room full with materials for manufacturing and preparing rockets, and the materials of jihad.”
Al Ashqar revealed that Masshal had grown up in a “simple family” near Gaza City, and that over time he “grew to be committed and love jihad in the Cause of Allah.”
According to al Ashqar, Masshal was very helpful to the Salafi jihadists in the Gaza Strip. “Despite their poor equipment and the lack of it and the lack of their numbers, he took them to those who had stores of weapons and types and varieties of money, for his goal was loftier than that wreckage,” al Ashqar said. He went on to say that Masshal “put most of his time in the folds of the jihadi work, such that even his family would miss seeing him due to his absence from him. He was not stingy with his money, so he would provide what he and his brothers required of equipment.”
Al Ashqar also alleged that Masshal “was the first to have manufactured what is known as ‘107 rockets’ [107mm Katyusha] in the Gaza Strip.” Thanks to the work of Masshal, al Ashqar claimed, “a local copy of the 107mm Katyusha rocket… is [now] in the hands of all the mujahideen” in Gaza.
On April 30, the MSC released a statement through the Ibn Taymiyyah Media Center confirming that Masshal, also known as Abu Ziad, was a member of their organization. “He stepped everywhere there is jihad, wanting to die, so may Allah have mercy on you, Abu Ziad. The enemy sites will miss you, which you didn’t hesitate for one day to pound with rockets,” the group said.
The MSC statement also revealed that Masshal had held a “high position” in Hamas’ Al Qassam Brigades but he decided to leave the group after Hamas “entered the game of democracy and accepted the abandonment of the divine Shari’ah.” Masshal, according to the MSC, previously worked alongside a number of Salafi jihadist leaders in the Gaza Strip including Abu al Walid al Maqdisi and Ashraf al Sabah, two MSC leaders killed in an Israeli airstrike in October 2012. The al Qaeda-linked group also noted that Masshal had previously worked with Abu Abdullah al-Suri (Khalid Banat), a former leader in Jund Ansar Allah, who was killed in clashes with Hamas in August 2009.
On May 1, the ITMC released its own statement to jihadist forums, which seemed to suggest that the Salafi jihadists believe Masshal was set up by elements within Hamas. This matches the claim of an April 30 statement from a Facebook page for supporters of Salafi jihadists in Gaza suggesting that it appeared Masshal had been offered “on a golden platter” to Israel by Hamas.
Tensions between Hamas and the Salafi jihadists in the Gaza Strip have increased over recent weeks. According a recent report in Al Ayyam, Hamas has warned the Salafi jihadist groups in the Gaza Strip that those who fire rockets at the current time will be arrested and that the firing rockets should not occur “without a general national consensus” on the issue.
On May 2, Hamas’ Interior Ministry announced the arrest of six Salafists, four of whom were accused of stealing rockets from other terror groups in the Gaza Strip. The ITMC condemned the announcement and said those detained are merely detained because of their beliefs. Five days later, the ITMC accused Hamas-linked militias of firing on and injuring at least one Salafi jihadist in the northern Gaza Strip.