Jaysh al Islam steps up its activities in the Gaza Strip

Recently, one of Gaza’s Salafi jihadi groups, Jaysh al Islam (JAI), stepped up its activity in the Gaza Strip. In the last month and a half, the militant group has published material showing its fighters training, conducting community service and interpreting Islamic rulings about COVID-19.

As the COVID-19 pandemic started to affect Middle Eastern countries, JAI published a 10-page document of its interpretations of Islamic law regarding the disease. The document describes COVID-19 as “of the creation of God Almighty.” Additionally, the group ruled the closing of mosques during a pandemic if certain conditions aren’t met, is prohibited.

“We consider the mosques the best places on earth and they are glorified from the Taqwa [being conscious and cognizant] of God Almighty, and the closure of them and preventing the servants of God Almighty from praying in them is among the greatest oppression,” the publication says.

On April 25, the group’s Telegram channel published over two dozen images of fighters conducting military training titled “Part of the preparation courses conducted by the Army of Islam in Jerusalem.” The photographs, which appear to be new, are believed to be the first publication showing military training of its fighters since the summer of 2019.

Photographs from the course show JAI fighters training under different military scenarios. A close look at the photographs reveal some of the fighters equipped with wooden firearms. This is likely an indication of JAI’s inability to procure weapons for all of its members due to the lack of financial support for the group.

On May 6, JAI published a video depicting its fighters handing out water and dates as a part of Dawa (missionary work) before breaking of the Ramadan fast. Each packet given to a needy person also contained a message from the group.

“Breaking the fast, from your brothers, Army of Islam Group,” read the statement. Interestingly, below the message was the group’s Telegram channel information and how to access it. Which suggests JAI’s attempt to increase its social media presence through its charity work.

JAI’s publication of its recent activity in the Gaza Strip is a stark difference compared to the last twelve months. During most of 2019, the group was considerably quiet and inactive on social media contrasted to previous years. Its social media channels were removed from Telegram, due in part to its pro-ISIS content, which made it difficult for the group to disseminate information about its activities.

One of the group’s primary goals is to wage jihad against Israel. Their last major jihadist act against the state was in 2018 when it took advantage of clashes between the IDF and militant groups in the Gaza Strip. Its fighters fired several mortars against southern Israel in retaliation for the killing of a Gaza resident in an IDF airstrike.

JAI has kept a low profile publicly and on social media. The group seems to be acting cautiously about its activities due to it likely being under the surveillance of Israel’s intelligence agencies and Hamas, which JAI considers an apostate disbeliever of Islam. In the meantime, the group continues to step up its activities in the Gaza Strip as it continues to wage jihad against Israel.

Joe Truzman is an editor and senior research analyst at FDD's Long War Journal focused primarily on Palestinian armed groups and non-state actors in the Middle East.

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