US government adds Gaza-based jihadist 'umbrella' group to terrorist designation lists
The US government today added the Mujahidin Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem (MSC) to the foreign terrorist organization list and labeled the group a specially designated global terrorist entity.
In its announcement, the State Department describes the MSC as "an umbrella group composed of several jihadist terrorist sub-groups based in Gaza" and notes that it "has claimed responsibility for numerous attacks on Israel since the group's founding in 2012."
One of the group's first high-profile attacks came on June 18, 2012, when MSC fighters launched a cross-border attack on an Israeli construction site. One civilian was killed in the raid. The group dedicated the attack as a "gift" to Ayman al Zawahiri and its "brothers" in al Qaeda, adding that it was "retaliation" for the killing of Osama bin Laden. Addressing "Sheikh Zawahiri," the group said it was "continuing with our pledge of allegiance on the path of jihad."
In February 2013, the MSC released a video portraying one of the jihadists killed in the June 2012 attack as an al Qaeda "martyr." An online banner advertisement for the video included a picture of the MSC jihadist, as well as photos of lead 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta and Anwar al Awlaki, the AQAP ideologue who was killed in a US drone strike.
On March 21, 2013, the MSC launched several rockets into Israel. The attacks coincided with a visit by President Barack Obama to the country. In advance of the president's trip, the MSC condemned the US and Israel on its social media pages, labeling Obama the new leader of the "Crusaders."
During a joint press conference held with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas shortly after the MSC's rocket strikes, President Obama mentioned the attacks. "We saw the continuing threat from Gaza again overnight, with the rockets that targeted Sderot," Israel, Obama said. "We condemn this violation of the important cease-fire that protects both Israelis and Palestinians -- a violation that Hamas has a responsibility to prevent."
While Obama said that Hamas should prohibit such violence, he did not outright accuse the group of launching the rockets. And indeed the MSC claimed responsibility, calling the president a "Roman dog."
The MSC also claimed rocket attacks against Israel in April and August of 2013.
"In addition to these physical attacks," the State Department notes, "the MSC released a statement in February 2014 declaring support for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)," or ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham).
The MSC's statement of support for the ISIS was dated Feb. 2, the same day that al Qaeda's general command disowned the ISIS. In its statement, the MSC blamed the ISIS' rivals in Syria for the infighting between jihadists. In a string of tweets that were also written on Feb. 2, the MSC defended the ISIS after the group rejected an initiative by Sheikh Abdallah Muhammad al Muhaysini, who had attempted to broker a peace deal between the ISIS and its jihadist foes.
Although the MSC's statement of support for the ISIS shows that some of the group's members have been in the ISIS camp, the current status of the relationship between the two jihadist organizations is unclear. It does not appear that the MSC has sworn allegiance to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the emir of ISIS, which was rebranded as simply the Islamic State in late June. At the time, Baghdadi's supporters declared that he ruled as "Caliph Ibrahim" over a caliphate that stretches across much of Iraq and Syria. The Islamic State has demanded the allegiance of all other jihadist groups as part of its caliphate claim.
Interestingly, the same month that the MSC expressed its support for Baghdadi's organization, the group also issued statements mourning the deaths of al Qaeda "martyrs." One of them was Abu Khalid al Suri, who served as Ayman al Zawahiri's chief representative in Syria before he was killed in late February 2014. It is widely suspected that the ISIS was responsible for al Suri's death, as the al Qaeda veteran was a prominent critic of Baghdadi and his followers.