Banner of the Gaza-based Army of Islam.
Today under Executive Order 13224, the US State Department added the Gaza-based, al Qaeda-linked Jaish al Islam, or Army of Islam, to the list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. The designation allows the US to freeze the terror group’s assets, prevent it from using financial institutions, and prosecute members for terrorist activities.
The Army of Islam is also known as the Tawhid and Jihad Brigades. It was founded in late 2005 and is currently led by Mumtaz Dughmush. It is reported to have been been 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 and who is currently in British custody.
The Army of Islam “subscribes to a Salafist ideology of global jihad together with the traditional model of armed Palestinian resistance,” State said in a press release on the designation. The terror group “has previously worked with Hamas and is attempting to develop closer al Qaeda contacts.”
The group has released propaganda that has expressed its affiliation and support for al Qaeda. On May 7, 2011, just five days after the death of Osama bin Laden, the Army of Islam released a statement eulogizing the al Qaeda leader. Also, in August 2008, Sheikh Abu Harith al Ansari, an Army of Islam leader, released a statement on jihadist forums that claimed bin Laden would seek to focus his attacks on “the Jews.”
The Army of Islam “has been responsible for numerous terrorist acts against the Governments of Israel and Egypt, as well as American, British and New Zealander citizens,” the US State Department said. “The group is also responsible for early 2009 attacks on Egyptian civilians in Cairo and Heliopolis, which resulted in casualties and deaths.” The Egyptian government accused the Army of Islam of executing the Jan. 1, 2011 bombing at a Coptic church in Alexandria that killed 21 people.
The terror group became known in 2006 after it captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and then turned him over to Hamas. Also, in 2006, the Army of Islam kidnapped two Fox News journalists.
In 2007, a cell from the Army of Islam, led by Khattab al Maqdasi, also kidnapped BBC reporter Alan Johnston in 2007. Maqdasi is said to have fought alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan. The group demanded Abu Qatada’s release in exchange for Johnston.
The Army of Islam is one of four known Salafist terror groups that seek closer ties to al Qaeda and are based in the Palestinian territories. The other groups are the Jund Ansar Allah, the Jaish al Ummah, and the Jaish al Mu’minun.
Al Qaeda-linked Salafist groups in Gaza:
Jund Ansar Allah, or the Warriors of God. Jund Ansar Allah members are thought to have fought in Afghanistan and Iraq. In August 2009, the group battled Hamas after its leader, Latif Moussa (Abu al Nour al Maqdissi), said Hamas is insufficiently Islamic. Moussa declared an Islamic emirate, or state in Rafah and the Palestinian territories.
Moussa’s actions prompted an immediate crackdown from Hamas, which was threatened by the Salafist group’s challenges to Hamas rule in Gaza. Hamas attacked Jund Ansar Allah members at their mosque and other locations. Moussa and Abu Abdullah al Suri, the group’s military emir, were among those killed during the fighting [for more information, see LWJ report, Hamas and al Qaeda-linked group clash in Gaza ].
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 said “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.