Preparing for the Next Stage: Islamic Jihad’s Gaza War

Andrew McGregor
September 4, 2014

Days after the September 24 ceasefire that ended Israel’s Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, thousands of members of Islamic Jihad who had fought alongside Hamas in the 50 day conflict gathered with their weapons in Gaza City to hear al-Quds Brigade (the armed wing of Islamic Jihad) spokesman Mahmoud al-Majzoub (a.k.a. Abu Hamza) declare: “We have not stopped making weapons, even during the battle, and we will redouble our efforts… to prepare for the next stage, which we hope will be the battle for freedom” (AFP, August 30).

Islamic JihadIslamic Jihad Movement in Palestine

The Iranian-supported Sunni “resistance movement” (full name: Harakat al-Jihad al-Islami fi Filastin – The Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine) was targeted by Israeli bombardment and heavily involved in the urban warfare that claimed the lives of 66 Israeli soldiers. Islamic Jihad reports the loss of 121 members during the fighting but asserts that it managed to fire 3,250 rockets, mortars and missiles into Israel during operations that were often closely coordinated with Hamas (, August 29). In addition, some 900 mortar shells were fired during operations against Israeli armor along the Gaza-Israel border (Press TV [Tehran], August 30). Certain IJ leaders were targeted during the conflict, including Shaban Sulayman al-Dahdouh, who was killed along with 13 others in a July 21 airstrike (Ma’an News Agency, August 5).

Islamic Jihad leader Ramadan Abdullah Shallah maintains that Israel was surprised by the military capabilities of the resistance movement in Gaza (Press TV, August 26). His movement mounted its own limited military operation in March after Israeli forces killed three IJ fighters within Gaza, firing 130 rockets into Israel during “Operation Breaking the Silence” (al-Jazeera, March 12).

While Islamic Jihad was prepared to negotiate a ceasefire in the latest conflict in August, Israeli demands for disarmament were rejected from the first. According to a senior Islamic Jihad leader, Khader Habib, “The issue of arms is connected to the existence of the occupation… This right [to bear arms in self-defense] is guaranteed by the laws of heaven and earth” (Middle East Monitor, August 7).

Al-Quds Brigade spokesman Abu Hamza has emphasized that Islamic Jihad is determined to improve its military capabilities while thanking those nations and groups who supported the Palestinians during the Israeli offensive, singling out Hezbollah, Iran and Sudan in particular (Press TV [Tehran], August 30). Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commander General Mohammed Ali Jafari has assured both Hamas and Islamic Jihad of more help “than in the past in all defense and social domains” (AFP, August 30).
With inspiration from the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, Palestinian exiles Abd al-Aziz Awda and Taghi Shaqaqi created Islamic Jihad in the same year, initially operating out of Egypt. Shaqaqi was assassinated in Malta by a Mossad team in 1995, while Awda assumed the spiritual leadership of the group. Today, Islamic Jihad operates in both Gaza and the West Bank under the leadership of Dr. Ramadan Abdullah Shallah, an original member and former professor in southern Florida who took control of the movement after Shaqaqi’s death.

Though he views its establishment as unlikely, Shallah has indicated he would favor the establishment of a one-state solution to the Israeli-Arab conflict in which Palestinian Muslims and Christians would have equal rights with Israeli Jews. [1] Short of a one-state solution, the IJ secretary-general insists on nothing less than the “total liberation of Palestine.” Shallah acknowledges ideological similarities with Hamas, but emphasizes Islamic Jihad’s separate approach:

We share the same Islamic identity. From a strategic point of view, there is no difference between us and Hamas, only a tactical difference… Don’t ask me what the political solution is to be. We aren’t the guilty party to be asked for a solution because we didn’t create the problem. Our sacred duty is to fight, to resist occupation of our sacred land change the conditions of our people. That is our duty, our sacred duty. Others, like Fatah, have maps and negotiations. We resist. [2]

Despite the close (and almost essential) military cooperation between Hamas’ Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades (the military wing of Hamas) and Islamic Jihad during the conflict with Israel, the two movements have become political rivals to some degree within Gaza. Recent polling has suggested Islamic Jihad has made recent gains in popularity at the expense of Hamas, though the movement still commands just over 13 percent support (Al-Monitor, August 10). Besides its military activities, Islamic Jihad offers social services to Gaza’s hard pressed population, including health services, schools and dispute mediation, the latter often in ways that are more efficient than similar services offered by Hamas.

The movement believes its focus on armed struggle is attracting new supporters, though Islamic Jihad has the luxury of not having to focus on the nearly insurmountable problems of governing a region under blockade that confront Hamas on a daily basis. Islamic Jihad has also distanced itself from Hamas’ association with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, a liability in today’s political climate and counter to IJ’s interest in maintaining good relations with the new Egyptian leadership. There are reports of occasional small-scale clashes between Hamas and Islamic Jihad inside Gaza, but Islamic Jihad shows little inclination to pursue or escalate these conflicts, keeping in mind that Hamas has control over the supply of weapons smuggled into Gaza (al-Akhbar [Beirut], April 16).


1. Scott Atran and Roberty Axelrod: “Interview with Ramadan Shallah, Secretary General, Palestinian Islamic Jihad,” Damascus, Syria, December 15, 2009, Perspectives on Terrorism 4(2), 2010,
2. Ibid.

This article first appeared in the September 4, 2014 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.

Gaza Salafists Claim to “Widen War” with Nevada Forest Fires

Andrew McGregor

January 26, 2012

A Gaza-based Salafist militant group, the Ma’sadat al-Mujahideen, has made a surprising claim of responsibility for igniting a series of devastating forest fires near Reno, Nevada. The claim was made in a statement from the group entitled “Declaring War on America by Setting Fire to Nevada Forests” that was carried on a number of jihadi websites (, January 21).

nevadaThe Work of the Gazan Mujahideen?

According to the statement, a group of “brothers from the lions of Ma’sadat al-Mujahideen set the fires on January 19 as part of an effort to widen “the area of war” by transferring it to locations inside America and elsewhere. The Salafist movement declares that fighting against the civilians and military of Israel, America and their allies to be fard ayn, or individually obligatory on all Muslims until “the liberation of Palestine” is achieved. The Salafists also issue a warning:

We give the enemies of Islam and the allies of the Jews who occupy the land of Palestine three months beginning from the date of this statement to disown [themselves] from the Jews who occupy the land of Palestine, and their actions against our Moslem brothers, and we demand the end of their alliances that oppress our rights as owners of the land, or we will be forced to extend our war until it spreads in all the lands that plot with our enemies.

Demanding that the Jews “return from whence they came since they have no place among us,” the movement points out the ease with which damaging attacks can be inflicted on nations such as America from within. Referring to the alleged setting of the Nevada forest fires, the message encourages similar actions by other Muslims:  “Here you see with our own eyes what simple materials can do, that are cheap in your enemy[‘s homeland], and how much damage it can inflict in them.” The brush fire in a valley between Carson City and Reno consumed more than 3,000 acres and forced the evacuation of more than 4,000 residents (Los Angeles Times, January 19). The Gazan Salafists did not provide any evidence of their claim, the veracity of which remains highly questionable at the moment.

Though it has been impossible to confirm the role of Ma’sadat al-Mujahidin in a number of incidents of suspected arson to which the movement has made claim, the group seems rather fixated on the use of fire as a tactical weapon in an asymmetric jihad. Last December the group issued a statement entitled “Setting a Fire in Factory on Materials and Chemical Fertilizers,” and a year earlier claimed to have started the fires in the forests of the Mount Carmel mountain range in northern Israel that killed more than 40 people.

Led by Shaykh Abu Ubaydah al-Ansari, the Ma’sadat al-Mujahideen is heavily influenced by the Salafists’ intellectual hero, Shaykh Ibn Taymiyya (1263-1328), and have declared it their duty to “liberate our [Muslim] lands and sanctuaries, not out of patriotism, but as a compulsory Islamic duty” (Shabakat al-Tahadi al-Islamiya, February 16, 2010). The movement is highly critical of Hamas for its alleged failure to fully implement Shari’a in Gaza, its failure to confront “the Jews” militarily, and its alleged “apostacy” (see Terrorism Monitor, March 4, 2010).

This article first appeared in the January 26, 2012 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.

Struggle between North and South Sudan Increasingly Tied to Palestinian-Israeli Conflict

Andrew McGregor

January 12, 2012

In late December, South Sudan president Salva Kiir made a state visit to Israel, meeting with President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. The visit alarmed many in the traditional Khartoum power structure, including former prime minister Sadiq al-Mahdi, who described the visit as “devilish” and part of an Israeli effort to find new allies after alienating Turkey and losing the cooperation of the Mubarak regime in Egypt (Sudan Vision, December 26, 2011).

Salva Kiir Mayardit 2President Salva Kiir Mayardit

A spokesman for the Sudanese Foreign Ministry said the government was studying the national security implications of Kiir’s visit to Israel, citing Israel’s leading role in an international campaign to “foment” the conflict in Darfur (Sudan Tribune, December 22, 2011).

Also on the agenda was the fate of an estimated 15,000 Sudanese refugees in Israel, many of them Muslims from Darfur and Christians from the South Sudan that the Israeli government would like to return in order to preserve the Jewish character of Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu likened the arrival of these refugees to “a nationwide plague – in the economy, society, homeland security. There is no obligation to take in illegal infiltrators. This is no longer a matter of making a decision – it’s a necessity, an imperative… Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state must be secured” (YNet News, December 27, 2011).

After Kiir’s visit, Israel announced it would send a delegation to South Sudan to investigate means of assisting the new nation. Kiir is reported to have asked for greater cooperation in the fields of technology, agriculture and water development (DPA/Reuters, December 20).

Rolf Steiner in Biafra

Israel’s interaction with South Sudan goes back to the Anyanya rebellion of the 1960s, when it provided covert training and arms supplies to Southern guerrillas in an effort to open a new front against Khartoum and prevent the deployment of Sudanese troops along the Suez Canal as part of the Arab alliance against Israel. German mercenary Rolf Steiner, fresh from exploits in the Congo and Biafra, attempted to join the Anyanya forces, but was forced to join another separatist faction after what he believed were Israeli objections to his service with Anyanya based on his experience as a teenaged Jungvolk commander in Nazi Germany in 1943-44. [1]

Right on the heels of the South Sudan president’s visit to Jerusalem came the first official visit to Sudan by the Hamas prime minister of Gaza, Ismail Haniya. After arriving in Khartoum on December 27, the Hamas leader predicted the “Arab Spring” would eventually bring victory to the Palestinian resistance and thanked the Sudanese people for their support (Sudan Vision, December 31, 2011).

Haniya was joined in Khartoum by Khalid Mesha’al, the exiled Hamas leader, and Hamas co-founder Mahmoud Zahar as the delegation sought financial support for its reconstruction following the 2008 Israeli attack on the territory as well as political support for recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state (AFP, December 29). Mesha’al was reported as warning the Sudanese president that Israeli authorities were trying to ethnically cleanse Jerusalem by “Judaizing” the city (Elnashra [Beirut], December 29, 2011; Jerusalem Post, December 30, 2011).

Meanwhile, both the Sudanese and Israeli press have been full of unverified stories alleging Israeli military incursions and airstrikes in the Red Sea coast region of Sudan. In an attack said to have occurred in November, Israeli aircraft were reported to have struck two vehicles in the Wadi al-Allaqi area of northern Sudan near the disputed Hala’ib Triangle region along the Sudanese-Egyptian border (Haaretz, December 25, 2011; December 27, 2011). A second incursion was reported by Sudanese media to have taken place on December 15, involving Israeli Apache attack helicopters landing near a Sudanese radar installation and even Israeli submarines operating off the Sudanese Red Sea coast (YNet News, December 26, 2011). Sudanese officials denied reports that Israeli aircraft had carried out strikes on targets in eastern Sudan on December 18 and 22 (al-Bawaba, December 25, 2011).  A pro-government daily reported that the men killed in a convoy of six Toyota Land Cruisers attacked by Israeli aircraft on December 18 were “gold prospectors”  (Alintibaha [Khartoum], December 24, 2011).

Most of the reports display some confusion over the actual dates and some apparently different reports may refer to the same incident. Colonel Sawarmi Khalid Sa’ad, a spokesman for the Sudanese Army, was adamant that no trace of an aerial incursion had been detected by Sudanese radar and air defense systems (Haaretz, December 25)

Israeli claims that Iran was shipping arms through Sudan and overland through Egypt to Gaza emerged in 2009 just prior to an earlier series of mysterious airstrikes in Sudan’s Red Sea coast region (Jerusalem Post, March 3, 2009).


  1. Scopas S. Poggo: “Politics of Liberation in the Southern Sudan, 1967-1972: The Role of Israel, African Heads of State, and Foreign Mercenaries,” The Uganda Journal, Vol. 47, November 2001, pp. 34-48; Rolf Steiner: The Last Adventurer, Boston, 1978, pp. 178-210; Edgar O’Ballance: The Secret War in the Sudan 1955-1972, London, 1977, pp. 126-130.

This article first appeared in the January 12, 2012 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.

Spokesman of the Army of Islam Describes Salafist Struggle for Gaza

Andrew McGregor

May 28, 2010

Despite their insistence that there is only one type of Islam, Gaza’s Salafists continue to operate as a number of separate groups and organizations with few apparent connections. One of the most militant of these groups is the Jaysh al-Islam (Army of Islam), known for its role in the 2006 Kerem Shalom attack that resulted in the abduction of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and the 2007 kidnapping of BBC reporter Alan Johnston. Jaysh al-Islam is also believed to have carried out a number of bombings against targets such as internet cafés and has engaged in serious clashes with Hamas, the governing body in Gaza. Jaysh al-Islam (a.k.a. Katbiyan Tawhid wa’l-Jihad) is dominated by the powerful Dughmush clan of Gaza City.

Gaza MapIn a recent interview with the Palestinian Ma’an News Agency, Jaysh al-Islam spokesman Abu Umar al-Ansari described the ideological approach of the Salafist movement in Gaza, focusing in particular on Jaysh al-Islam’s relations with al-Qaeda, Hamas and Gaza’s Christian minority (Ma’an News Agency, May 19).

Abu Umar began by defining Jaysh al-Islam as an Islamic group opposed to Jews, Christians, Shiites and Sufis. The movement espouses tawhid (monotheism), opposes polytheism and practices takfir (the act of declaring a group or individual to be infidel); all these traits are typical of militant Salafist groups.

Though Jaysh al-Islam has been frequently cited by Israeli sources as an arm of al-Qaeda, Abu Umar did not acknowledge any such relationship, suggesting instead that, since the Muslim community was united in their fight against the enemies of Islam, formal alliances between Salafist groups added “little in terms of support and advice,” noting, “The Army of Islam has its own path and mechanism to achieve its goals, just as the al-Qaeda organization has its own vision and policy on jihadist issues in general and the Palestinian issue in particular.”

Despite commenting that “Islam does not accept division,” Abu Umar addressed the proliferation of armed Salafist groups in Gaza and their apparent lack of coordination by saying each Salafist group saw reality in a different way and had their own path to follow. He rejected the division of Muslims into “moderates and radicals,” claiming that those Muslims who were “obsessed with Western civilization, democracy and freedom” were “semi-infidels” and “pseudo-Muslims.” According to Abu Islam, “Either [Islam] is completely correct or it is complete darkness born from the ideas and concepts of humans. Leaving Islam and joining modernity does not necessarily mean progress.”

The absence of respected Islamic scholars in the Jaysh al-Islam leadership was of little consequence, as “the Salafist method does not depend on human concepts,” relying instead on textual and traditional sources such as the Koran and Sunnah. In any case, most Salafist scholars have been killed or detained. “The prisons of the tyrants are full of them because they speak the truth.”

Abu Omar has little respect for other Palestinian organizations, describing them as failures that “should be consigned to the garbage heap of history.” He dismisses the concept of “resistance” [to Israel] as being tied to geographical locations and thus without foundation in Islam, which endorses jihad for much larger purposes. Resistance “is not Islam, but endorsement of the Sykes-Picot agreement [the 1916 secret agreement that divided the Middle East into colonial spheres of influence] and recognition of borders. Islam does not recognize borders.”

Though Jaysh al-Islam has been accused of bombing internet cafes, schools and hair-dressing salons, Abu Omar suggested the blame for these attacks lies with those who seek to create a state of emergency to eliminate the Salafist movement. The bombings also serve to create the perception of “violent Salafists” pitted against “moderate and centrist” Muslims.

The Jaysh al-Islam spokesman divides Gaza’s Christians into two groups: those “who are good” and cause no problems for Muslims, and those who are treasonous, hostile to Muslims and spreaders of “vice, infidelity and atheism.” The latter group “serves foreign agendas” and “spoils the relationship between Christians and Muslims.” Abu Omar goes on to accuse the Red Cross of killing Muslims on the orders of Christian clergymen and claims “thousands of Muslim women are raped inside Christian churches.”

Abu Omar claims Hamas has done great harm to the Palestinians by falling into reliance on the established political system of international relations, Arab initiatives and U.N. resolutions. Their advocacy of democracy and modernity has created a gulf between them and the mujahideen. Hamas has prevented jihadis from “fighting the Jews,” while peaceful demonstrations organized by Hamas have only “deceived the masses.” In the view of Jaysh al-Islam, governments derive their authority from the Shari’a, “not from popular elections.”

This article first appeared in the May 28, 2010 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Indonesian Jihadis Prepare for Gaza Intervention

Andrew McGregor

January 21, 2009

Israel’s assault on Gaza has brought widespread condemnation from the Muslim world, though no Muslim nation has dared intervene so far. In many cases this official position is at variance with popular sentiments, as in distant Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim nation.

FPI SupportersFront Pembela Islam Supporters

With no Israeli embassy in Jakarta (the two nations have no diplomatic relations) and no Jewish population to speak off, Indonesian anger at the Gaza incursion has at times been hard-pressed to find an avenue for expression. The country’s lone synagogue, a barely used and rabbi-less building in Surabaya, has been the target of angry mobs shouting “Go to hell, Israel” while burning Israeli flags (Antara News Agency [Jakarta], January 8). An unlucky KFC outlet in Central Sulawesi province was overrun by 300 protesters enraged over US support for Israel, who fortunately restricted their violence to the furniture (Xinhua, January 8). Demonstrations have also occurred at Jakarta’s Egyptian and U.S. embassies.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s government will be seeking re-election in April, so it is being forced to address public anger at Israel while preventing non-government players from taking actions that might be outside the national interest. According to President Yudhoyono, “I’ve talked to Middle East leaders, to the Palestinian ambassador to Indonesia, to the UN Resident Coordinator in Indonesia…and [the conclusion is] additional weaponry, bombs, rockets, tanks, or air power are not what the Gazans need” (Jakarta Post, January 17). The government views financial and humanitarian aid as the best way to help the Palestinians of Gaza, though there are many in Indonesia who would prefer to see more material military assistance sent from Indonesia to pursue “jihad” against Israel for its actions in Gaza.

Indonesia’s Armed Forces (Tentara Nasional Indonesia –TNI) already have a peacekeeping unit of 210 soldiers deployed in Lebanon as part of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). TNI chief General Djoko Santoso has indicated Indonesia is ready to contribute to another peacekeeping force in Gaza if required (Antara, January 12).

There are a number of Indonesian Islamist groups seeking government support to send fighters to Gaza, including the Islam Defenders Front (Front Pembela Islam – FPI) and Hizb ut-Tahir Indonesia (HTI). In Bandung, West Java, the FPI is providing physical, military, and mental training to 40 recruits in a factory (Jakarta Post, January 16). In the Jember region of East Java, the organization says it has recruited 60 Muslim youth for front-line service against Israel (Jakarta Post, January 7). The recruits are receiving a brief period of training in the methods of Pencak Silat, a traditional Indonesian martial arts movement strongly associated with anti-colonialism. The FPI claims to have 4,000 volunteers for service in Gaza, but can only afford to send three to five fighters, who will receive a perfunctory ten days of instruction, though weapons training is not part of the curriculum: “We won’t be teaching them how to use weapons. They will have to learn in the field when we dispatch them to Gaza” (AFP, January 8). The Mosque Youth Coordination Body claims to have recruited 3,500 volunteers to either fight or provide humanitarian assistance, though it estimates only half of these will actually go to Gaza (AFP, January 8).

Abu Bakar Bashir’s Jamaah Anshoru Tauhid (JAT) movement expressed hope that Egypt would allow passage of mujahideen and medical teams through Rafah into Gaza (AFP, January 7). Bashir is the former spiritual leader of Indonesia’s notorious Jamaah Islamiyah (JI) terrorist organization.

The Ansor Brigades paramilitary, belonging to Indonesia’s largest Islamic organization, the Nahdlatul Ulama, is also training 78 volunteers for Gaza. Candidates need bring only a letter from their family and a health certificate. All expenses must be handled by the volunteer. Recruits are encouraged to develop spiritual powers that will allow them to fend off Israeli bullets and other weapons. The rival FPI eschews such traditional methods in their own training: “There is no immunity in the FPI. If we learn about such practices, how can we die a martyr?” Military strategy is taught to the Ansor recruits, but no weapons training is offered. The program has not been approved by Nahdlatul Ulama headquarters (Tempo [Jakarta], January 15).


This article first appeared in the January 21, 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Focus