Image accompanying Army of Islam fighter Nidal al ‘Ashi’s martyrdom statement, from the SITE Intelligence Group.
A Palestinian from the Gaza Strip who was a member of the al Qaeda-linked Army of Islam (Jaish al Islam) was killed during recent fighting in Syria, according to a martyrdom statement released by the terror group.
The death of Nidal al ‘Ashi, who was also known Abu Hureira al Maqdisi and Abu Omar al Shami, was announced yesterday by the Army of Islam, in a statement that was translated by the SITE Intelligence Group. His death was also announced by the Qabidun ‘Ala al Jamr (Grippers of Embers) Media Foundation, the media arm of the Sinam al Islam forum, according to SITE. Informed jihadists said that ‘Ashi was killed during recent fighting in Aleppo, where the Syrian military is pounding rebel forces.
“We bring to you, brothers in monotheism and jihad, and mujahideen, everywhere, the news of the martyrdom of the lion Abu Hureira al Maqdisi, may Allah have mercy on him, one of the lions of the Army of Islam], as we consider him and we reckon none unto Allah, in the Levant…” a posting on the Sinam al Islam forum stated, according to SITE.
The Army of Islam statement said that ‘Ashi became a Salafist and “rose as a mujahid against the Jews and Christians after he had been friendly with them before.” He then was imprisoned by Hamas “after he had destroyed the tenets of Christian missionary work, including societies, churches, universities, and schools.”
He fled to Syria “when his methods were restricted,” and supported “his monotheist brothers in their war against the tyrants.”
Jihadist groups emerging in Syria
The Army of Islam, which is one of four al Qaeda-linked terror groups that operate in Gaza, is the latest jihadist group that has emerged in Syria. Six other jihadist groups are known to operate inside Syria:
Al Qaeda in Iraq has long had a strong presence in Syria, with the assistance of the Assad regime. The terror group has used Syria to recruit, train, and arm fighters to wage jihad. Syria also has served as a transit point for foreign jihadists entering Iraq.
The Al Nusrah Front has claimed credit for numerous suicide attacks, roadside bombings, ambushes, and complex assaults against security forces and government installations. Al Nusrah has been very active in Syria and has been linked to al Qaeda.
The Abdullah Azzam Brigades has a presence throughout the Middle East, including Syria, and was formed at the behest of al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi and al Qaeda emir Osama bin Laden. At the end of June, Majid bin Muhammad al Majid, the group’s emir, said that Syrians should support the uprising against the Assad regime, and that further rebellions against Muslim governments would follow.
The Al Baraa Ibn Malik Martyrdom Brigade, which is named after a suicide cell that joined al Qaeda in Iraq in 2005, said it had formed a martyrdom battalion and was prepared to carry out suicide attacks against Syrian forces.
The Liwa al Islam, or Brigade of Islam, took credit for the attack that killed the top two Syrian defense officials and Assad’s national security advisor. The Free Syrian Army also claimed credit for the attack, and both groups said it was carried out by a remotely detonated bomb, but the Syrian government maintained it was a suicide attack.
The Omar al Farouq Brigade includes Turkish “mujahideen” and is named after a prominent al Qaeda leader who was slain in Iraq in 2006. The group has implored Muslims to “fight together to save Syria, Somalia and Afghanistan.”
Background on the Army of Islam
Banner of the Gaza-based Army of Islam.
The Army of Islam “subscribes to a Salafist ideology of global jihad together with the traditional model of armed Palestinian resistance,” the US State Department said in a May 2011 press release that announced the group’s designation as a terrorist entity. The terror group “has previously worked with Hamas and is attempting to develop closer al Qaeda contacts.”
Mumtaz Dughmush is the leader of the Army of Islam. He was listed by the State Dept. as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist in August 2011.
The group has released propaganda that expresses its affiliation with 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.”
In addition to launching mortar and rocket attacks into Israel, 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 State Dept. 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, kidnapped BBC reporter Alan Johnston. Maqdasi is said to have fought alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan. The group demanded Abu Qatada’s release in exchange for Johnston.
The Israelis targeted Army of Islam leaders and fighters in airstrikes in Gaza in late 2011. On Dec. 30, Muaman Abu Daf, an emir, was killed in a strike in the Zeitoun district in Gaza. Three other Army of Islam fighters involved in attacks along the Israeli-Gaza border were killed on Dec. 27 and Dec. 28.
There are four main Salafist groups that operate in the Gaza Strip. All four groups have expressed their support for al Qaeda. In addition to the Army of Islam, Jund Ansar Allah, Jaish al Ummah, and Jaish al Mu’minun all operate in Gaza. These groups have clashed with Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated terror group that rules Gaza and is supported by Iran and Syria. [See LWJ report, Israel kills ‘Global Jihad affiliated-terrorists’ in Gaza airstrikes, for summaries of the four terror groups.]
Are you a dedicated reader of FDD's Long War Journal? Has our research benefitted you or your team over the years? Support our independent reporting and analysis today by considering a one-time or monthly donation. Thanks for reading! You can make a tax-deductible donation here.
Its clear that in the last few weeks Assad has lost most of what remaining hold he had on Syria’s Palestinian refugee population. Mass defections to the opposition from the ‘Palestinian Liberation Army’ militia (ex-Fatah splinter group that had acted as enforcers for Assad), the leadership of Islamic Jihad split for Iran, and a general uprising in the Palestinian camps & neighborhoods of Damascus.
There’s definitely more Islamists showing up now in Syria (inevitable as the conflict dragged on), but their overall influence may be waning as the insurgency becomes more broad-based. More military defections and the joining of many Kurdish Pechmerga forces.
Assad has countered, letting the PKK freely operate on it’s own inside Syrian territory.
Also, the PFLP-GC has vowed to fight for Assad until the end. This is not only a civil war, but is quickly turning into a broad based regional war.