Hamas frees al Qaeda-linked jihadist leader in Gaza

Hamas has freed Abu al Walid al Maqdisi, the leader of one of several al Qaeda-linked jihadist groups in Gaza, after more than one year in custody.

Al Maqdisi, who leads the Tawhid and Jihad Group in Jerusalem and is also known as Hisham Ali al Su’aydani, was freed earlier today, according to the Masada al Mujahideen, another al Qaeda-linked jihadist group based in Gaza.

“Masada al Mujahideen, its command and members, congratulates itself and its brothers in Tawhid and Jihad Group, the families and the relatives of the Sheikh, the Salafist Jihadist brothers with all their names, aliases, and titles, and the Palestinian people in general and the Islamic Ummah on the occasion of the release of the honorable, mujahid, patient, reward-anticipating and firm sheikh, Abu al Walid al Maqdisi,” the group said in a statement released on jihadist forums that was translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.

Masada al Mujahideen claimed that al Maqdisi was arrested “for nothing other than promoting virtue, prohibiting vice, and explaining the Sharia-based rulings [Islamic law] in issues about which Hamas doesn’t like to speak publicly or even believe in.”

Al Maqdisi fought alongside al Qaeda in Iraq in the early days of the Iraq war in 2003 before returning to Gaza and establishing the Tawhid and Jihad Group, according to Reuters. However, a biography released by the group claimed that al Maqdisi was arrested by Egyptian security forces while trying to travel to Iraq.

Major jihadist groups in Gaza:

The Tawhid and Jihad Group in Jerusalem and Masada al Mujahideen are among six major jihadist groups operating in Gaza. The four other groups are the Army of Islam, Jund Ansar Allah, Jaish al Ummah, and Jaish al Mu’minun. These groups have clashed with Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated terror group that rules Gaza and is supported by Iran and Syria.

The Tawhid and Jihad Group in Jerusalem. The Tawhid and Jihad Group in Jerusalem announced its formation in a statement released on jihadist forums in August 2009. In the same announcement, the Tawhid and Jihad Group in Jerusalem denounced a raid by Hamas against a Jund Ansar Allah mosque that killed Latif Moussa. Hamas killed Moussa and several followers after he declared an Islamic emirate in Gaza and challenged Hamas’s authority. Al Maqdisi had studied under Moussa.

The Tawhid and Jihad Group in Jerusalem has claimed credit for numerous attacks against Israeli security forces and civilians. In multiple statements released on jihadist forums, the terror group has claimed to have launched rocket and mortar attacks into Israel, as well as IED attacks against Israeli soldiers.

Tawhid and Jihad has also expressed its affinity with al Qaeda’s top leaders. In June 2010, the group released a statement eulogizing Mustafa Abu Yazid, one al Qaeda’s top leaders who was killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan. Tawhid and Jihad said Yazid’s death was the latest among “a generation” of martyred al Qaeda leaders such as “Abu Musab al Zarqawi, Abu Omar al Baghdadi, Abu Hamza al Muhajir, Abu al Laith al Libi, and Yusuf al Ayiri, who will turn the life of their enemy into unbearable hell and send them after that to eternal perdition where the Lord of the Worlds is the judge,” according to a translation of the statement by the SITE Intelligence Group.

The terror group also expressed solidarity with the Islamic Caucasus Emirates, al Qaeda’s affiliate in southern Russia, and eulogized Emir Sayfullah, who was the terror group’s top judge was well as its leader in Dagestan before he was killed in August 2011.

Masada al Mujahideen. Masada al Mujahideen announced its formation in April 2008 and said its leader is Abu Omar al Ansari, according to the SITE Intelligence Group. The terror group has claimed numerous attacks against Israel, including rocket and mortar attacks. The group has also claimed credit for setting numerous fires inside Israel, and even an arson attack in Nevada.

Masada al Mujahideen also eulogized Osama bin Laden immediately after he was killed by US Navy SEALs in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in May 2011.

“Although Sheikh Osama has been killed, his creed will not be killed, and the whole Ummah, Allah willing, is Osama bin Laden. We do not say that as hyperbole, for you see with your own eyes and acknowledge with your own mouths that most of the jihadi groups in the world have come to follow his example, method and creed,” the group said in a statement that was translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.

Masada al Mujahideen also eulogized Atiyah Abd al Rahman, a top al Qaeda leader who was killed in a US drone strike in North Waziristan, Pakistan, last summer.

“He was truly one of the well-known people of jihad and a bright star in the sky of knowledge,” the group said in a statement that was translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.

Army of Islam, or Jaish al Islam, is an al Qaeda-linked terror group based in Gaza. 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 group has released propaganda expressing 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.” The US State Department designated the Army of Islam as a terrorist entity in May 2011.

The Army of Islam also appears to be active in the Syrian rebellion. At the end of July, the Army of Islam claimed that one of its fighters was killed during recent fighting in Syria, according to a martyrdom statement released by the terror group.

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 was not sufficiently 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. The 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 warned 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 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.

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