Palestinian jihadist group in Syria issues call to arms to refugee camp in Lebanon

Abu Muhammad al Filistini (far right) speaking to some of his men in Saraya Ghuraba Filistin

A Palestinian jihadist leader in Syria, Abu Muhammad al Filistini, released a message yesterday directed at jihadists in Lebanon and other Palestinians in the Ain el Helwe refugee camp near the southern Lebanese city of Sidon.

Filistini, who is the leader of Saraya Ghuraba Filistin – a sub-unit of the Uighur group Katibat al Ghuraba al Turkistan – discussed many topics in his short speech meant to serve as motivation for his men. Also included in the message was insight into why Filistini and his men fight inside Syria. However, most interesting was Filistini’s call to arms for those in the refugee camp.

“We remember our brothers in Lebanon and in the Ain el Helwe camp, we call them to the land of jihad. This is the blessed land in Syria,” he proclaimed.

It is unclear how many Palestinians in Saraya Ghuraba Filistin are from refugee camps inside Syria or from foreign countries. Filistini’s speech directly implied that he, and many of his followers, are not from Syria. But his first public address being directed to Lebanon, and specifically the Ain el Helwe camp, it is probable that many of the fighters in Saraya Ghuraba Filistin are from that camp.

This would not be surprising as Ain el Helwe has a long history as a militant breeding ground with a reputation as a hotbed of extremism. Many al Qaeda-linked organizations call the camp home, including Fatah al Islam, which has supported al Qaeda operations in both Iraq and Syria in the past. In late 2013, it was reported that the former Al Nusrah Front, at that time al Qaeda’s branch in Syria, had a unified leadership structure inside the camp.

Katibat al Ghuraba al Turkistan was created last year and has been active both on the battlefield and on social media since. However, KGT has only recently gained prominence as its media capabilities have increased. It has also likely grown larger from obtaining fighters from other groups, as well as the native Syrians, which it has also showcased. Late last month, it created Saraya Ghuraba Filistin to accommodate its Palestinian fighters in its ranks.

Al Qaeda figures and propaganda have played a prominent role in KGT videos and the group has not sought to hide its ideology. Osama bin Laden, Ayman al Zawahiri, Abu Musab al Zarqawi, Mohammad Atef, Saeed al Masri, and Abdullah Azzam have all been featured. Clips from al Qaeda branches like Shabaab in Somalia as well as the Afghan Taliban, an al Qaeda ally, have also been prominently featured. [For more information on KGT, see Threat Matrix report, New Uighur jihadist group emerges in Syria.]

Caleb Weiss is an editor of FDD's Long War Journal and a senior analyst at the Bridgeway Foundation, where he focuses on the spread of the Islamic State in Central Africa.

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