Abdel Latif Moussa, the leader of the Jund Ansar Allah, and his armed followers after Friday’s sermon in Rafah. AP photo.
Heavy fighting broke out between Hamas and an al Qaeda-linked group that called for the creation of an Islamic state in Gaza. Thirteen people, including the leaders of both groups’ military wings, were reported killed and 85 more were wounded after Hamas attacked following sermon at a mosque in Rafah.
Abdel Latif Moussa, the leader of the Jund Ansar Allah, triggered the violent clashes after he said Hamas is insufficiently Islamic and created an Islamic emirate, or state, in Rafah that would eventually spread throughout the Palestinian territories.
Moussa, who goes by the name Abu al Nour al Maqdissi, swore allegiance to Osama bin Laden during his controversial Friday sermon, which was attended by several hundred followers. Moussa surrounded himself with five masked gunmen armed with assault rifles; one wore what appeared to be a suicide belt.
Shortly after his announcement, Hamas fighters attacked Moussa’s mosque in Rafah as well as at other Jund Ansar Allah strongholds.
The fighting took its toll on the military leadership of both groups. Abu Jibril Shimali, the commander of Hamas’ Izzadin al Qassam Brigades, and Abu Abdullah al Suri, the military emir of Jund Ansar Allah are said to have been killed, although the reports have not been confirmed. Moussa was killed in an explosion at a compound in which he and others had sought refuge from a Hamas attack. A Jund Ansar Allah suicide bomber is said to have detonated in the middle of a Hamas military unit.
Jund Ansar Allah and several other al Qaeda-linked groups have formed in Gaza over the past several years [see list below]. Al Qaeda has attempted to make inroads into Gaza since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
Al Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri, have been critical of Hamas for accommodating Israel and the West and for improperly waging jihad, or holy war. Hamas has accused al Qaeda of attempting to graft the Palestinian struggle onto the global jihad and has criticized al Qaeda’s attacks worldwide.
The war of words between the two groups has been heated. Al Qaeda leaders trade barbs with Hamas on propaganda tapes, while both groups’ followers clash on jihadi Internet message boards.
Al Qaeda-linked groups in Gaza
Jund Ansar Allah, or the Warriors of God: Jund Ansar Allah members are thought to have fought in Afghanistan and Iraq. The group battled Hamas after its leader, Latif Moussa (Abu al Nour al Maqdissi), said Hamas is insufficiently Islamic, and declared an Islamic emirate, or state in Rafah and the Palestinian territories. Moussa and Abu Abdullah al Suri, the military emir, were killed during the fighting.
Jaish al Islam, or Army of Islam: Also known as the Tawhid and Jihad Brigades. Jaish al Islam is led by Mumtaz Durmush. This group became known in 2006 after it captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and then turned him over to Hamas. A cell from the Army of Islam, led by Khattab al Maqdasi, also kidnapped BBC reporter Alan Johnston. Maqdasi is said to have fought alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan.
The Army of Islam is said to be financed by Mohammad Dahlan, the Fatah security chief of Gaza before Hamas took power in 2007. The Army of Islam is linked to Abu Qatada, a Palestinian who serves as al Qaeda’s spiritual leader in Europe. The group demand Qatada’s release in exchange for Johnston.
Jaish al Ummah, or the Army of the Nation: Jaish al Ummah group released the first videotape claiming to be an al Qaeda-linked group in Gaza. The video showed its masked fighters training in the desert and riding on horseback. Jaish al Ummah warns about the creeping influence of Iran and its proxy Islamic Jihad.
Jaish al Mu’minun, or the Army of Believers: Also known as Al Qaeda in Palestine. This little-known group has looted the American International School, opened fire at a YMCA center, and is believed to have murdered a Christian book seller. The group claimed to have “no organic links with al Qaeda, but we share its ideology.” In a propaganda tape the group said its “goal is not only to liberate Palestine, but to spread Islam everywhere.”
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.