Wasim al Aatl, a Palestinian from the Gaza Strip who is also known as Abu Mohammed al Filistini, has reportedly died in Syria while carrying out a “jihadist mission.” Some reports have suggested that he conducted a suicide bombing attack.
Originally a dentist from Jabalia in northern Gaza, al Aatl reportedly left the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip about 11 months ago to fight in Syria. According to Palestinian media reports, al Aatl, believed to be in his mid to late 30s, traveled to Turkey before crossing into Syria. His family had not heard anything from him for two months prior to his purported death.
On Nov. 2, the Twitter page for the Ibn Taymiyyah Media Center, a jihadist media unit tied to the Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem, confirmed al Aatl’s death and said he had fought alongside the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) while in Syria.
Al Aatl is at least the sixth Palestinian from Gaza to die fighting in Syria against the regime of Bashar al Assad. Nidal Khalid al ‘Ashi, a former fighter in Jaish al Islam (Army of Islam), was killed fighting in Aleppo in late July 2012. Muhammad Ahmad Qanitah, formerly a member of the Tawhid and Jihad Group in Jerusalem who had previously served with Hamas, was killed in Syria while fighting for the al Qaeda-affiliated Al Nusrah Front in late December 2012.
Similarly, Sa’ad Harb Sha’lan, originally from Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip, was killed in mid-June 2013 fighting near Idlib. Fahd Nizar al Habbash, a former member of Hamas’ police force in Gaza, was killed fighting for the Al Nusrah Front in mid-July 2013. More recently, in September, jihadists reported the death of Mohammed Za’anin, who was said to have died in a “martyrdom operation” in Syria, where he fought for the al Qaeda-affiliated ISIS.
On Sept. 28, the Ibn Taymiyyah Media Center (ITMC), a jihadist media unit tied to the Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem, released posters for these five Palestinian jihadists killed in Syria.
A number of press reports over the past year have indicated a rise in the number of Palestinians joining the fight against the Assad regime. Many of those traveling to Syria have been Salafi jihadists who joined the Al Nusrah Front. While it is unclear exactly how many Palestinians from Gaza have traveled to Syria to fight among jihadists, in late August the ITMC released a video praising Fahd Nizar al Habbash. In the video, a narrator boasted that “convoys of mujahideen” from Gaza have gone to Syria to fight and that some have died while there.
Salafi jihadists in the Gaza Strip have also expressed support for the fight in Syria and provided military tips in statements. For example, on Jan. 20, 2013, an audio speech from Abu Abdullah al Ghazi, a Jaish al Ummah (Army of the Nation) official, was released to jihadist forums. In the speech, which was obtained and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group, al Ghazi said that the Levant should be seen as an open “market of jihad.” In addition, he called on fighters to “[t]ake the initiative and rise to establish the Islamic State in the Levant and reestablish the rule of Allah over His land after you pluck out that criminal tyrant [Assad] and retaliate for the blood that was spelt and the honors that were violated.”
Nine days before al Ghazi’s audio speech was released, a video from Jaish al Ummah was released to jihadist forums. In the video, which was dedicated to fighters in Syria, the group showed “how to manufacture a 107mm rocket,” according to SITE. The video also “provided recommendations about substitute materials and quantities depending on the size of the rocket.”
In related developments, in June, jihadists in Syria called on Hamas members as well as members of other Palestinian factions in Gaza to join the Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem. And on May 20, a video featuring Abu Talha al Libi, the sharia official of the Muhajireen Army in the Levant, was released by the ITMC. In the video, titled “Fear Allah, O Hamas,” al Libi slammed Hamas’ campaign against Salafi jihadists in the Gaza Strip. The Muhajireen Army, or Emigrants’ Army, is a unit made up of foreign jihadists who fight in Syria. It is closely allied with the ISIS, and also fights alongside the Al Nusrah Front.
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