Al-Qaeda’s North and West African branches respond to the Hamas-led invasion of Israel

In a joint statement released online, al-Qaeda’s branches in North Africa and West Africa, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Group for Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM), respectively, praised the massive Palestinian assault on Israel. At the same time, the two groups encourage further violence against Jews. 

Unlike the statement from Shabaab, the joint AQIM-JNIM statement is explicit about its praise for the Iranian-backed group of Hamas. “We send this message of love to our brothers in Palestine generally, and Gaza particularly, especially from Jund al-Aqsa [referring to Palestinian militants more broadly] and the Izz al-Din Qassam Martyrs Brigade [Hamas],” the statement begins. 

“We congratulate your actions and urge you to continue, biting your teeth with patience on the path of jihad,” the joint statement continues. “They [the Palestinians] attacked the Jews…wanting to lift the sword of humiliation from their necks.” The two al-Qaeda branches encourage the Palestinian militants to “complete what you began and seek help from God alone for it is He who guarantees victory.” 

To note, AQIM did not confer specific commendations on Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), despite the specific call out to Hamas. Though Hamas is also Iranian-supported, PIJ is even more beholden to the Iranian regime and is closely allied to both Hezbollah and the Assad regime in Syria.

Though al-Qaeda also benefits from Iranian support, particularly safe shelter inside Iranian territory, heaping praise on PIJ is seemingly a bridge too far for al-Qaeda’s global apparatus.

In a similar manner to the statement released by al-Qaeda’s East African wing, however, AQIM and JNIM also state that “Know, our dear brothers, that you can continue on this path. The tax that you are paying today is on behalf of the entire Islamic Ummah [worldwide Islamic community].” 

The two continue by saying that “we in al-Qaeda are racing against time to obtain the ability to reach you to liberate Jerusalem. Our ranks are stacked together, loud and boastful.” 

Interestingly, the joint statement also addresses Palestinians living in the West Bank, inciting further violence against Israel from that front. “And to the lions of the West Bank, know that God is asking you about this crucial moment for the Palestinian cause,” the statement reads. “Hasten and seek forgiveness from your Lord…and light a fire in the West Bank under the feet of the Jews…so rise up and fight the Jews and those who protect the Jews.” 

Before ending the relatively short statement, the statement from al-Qaeda’s men encourages all Muslims around the world to stand behind the Palestinians and support them in the fight against Israel and Jews. It is only through this Islamic unity, according to AQIM and JNIM, that Jerusalem will be “liberated.” 

Previous statements on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

This is not the first time that AQIM or JNIM has interjected themselves into the Israel-Palestine conflict. For instance, in 2019 JNIM carried out a suicide assault in the northern Malian town of Aguelhok in the name of al-Qaeda’s “Jerusalem Will Not Be Judaized” campaign. Shabaab also carried out a series of attacks under this campaign in both Kenya and Somalia. 

Speaking in 2019 after the Aguelhok raid, JNIM said that the assault was a “clear response from the Mujahideen in the Islamic Maghreb, to demonstrate their rejection of and their standing in the face of the normalization campaigns with the criminal Jewish entity, and that they will spare no effort to foil the plots of America, France, and Israel to infiltrate Africa.”

As the attack targeted Chadian troops, JNIM framed the attack as a retaliation against then-Chadian President Idriss Deby meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. JNIM described Deby as the “head of these corrupt tyrannical rulers,” saying he “raced to visit Israel, following in the footsteps of the perished [Egyptian President Anwar] Sadat, who had set the precedent decades before!!”

JNIM’s 2019 statement claimed that Deby’s actions were “a flagrant defiance of the sentiments of millions of Muslims in Chad, who have become stricken under poverty and hunger, despite the substantial wealth of their land!!”

And in 2017, the year of JNIM’s founding, the group and AQIM publicly denounced then-US President Trump’s musings on moving the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. JNIM specifically said the plans (which later came into fruition) were part of the humiliation that Palestinians suffer and that Palestinians should rise against the Zionists and the United States. 

AQIM, however, has a much longer history of invoking the conflict in its communiques and attacks. During the last flare-up in the conflict in May 2021, AQIM’s emir, Abu Ubaydah Yusuf al-Annabi, released an audio message where he openly encouraged Palestinian militants to continue fighting Israel. 

A year earlier, AQIM criticized Trump’s so-called “deal of the century,” or the peace plan proposed by Trump and his senior advisor Jared Kushner in early 2020. That statement bemoaned Palestinian leaders for pursuing nationalism instead of jihad and stated that the only true peace plan was the re-establishment of the Caliphate over Jerusalem. 

AQIM’s threats against Jews and Israeli interests have not just been rhetorical, however. For example, it specifically targeted the then-open Israeli embassy in Nouakchott, Mauritania in 2008. In a statement released through al-Jazeera, AQIM said at the time it was specifically targeting Israelis and demanded all Arab states to cease ties with Israel. 

To note, al-Qaeda has little to do with hostilities inside Israel or Palestine (despite nominal affiliations with small Gaza-based units such as Jaysh al-Ummah). However, the group and its various branches and allies around the world, often seek to capitalize on the collective anger among the wider Muslim world over the conflict for its own benefit. 

The various statements from al-Qaeda global branches show that while al-Qaeda has taken a hardline approach against the Muslim Brotherhood, of which Hamas is the Palestinian representative, it nevertheless celebrates Hamas’ recent mass killings of Jews. 

And though al-Qaeda is supportive of the current hostilities, this likely only extends to the fighting of Israel or the killing of Jews itself, and thus not an implicit doctrinal approval of any of the factions involved in the ongoing war.

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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