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.

Mysterious Murder of Lebanese Islamist Militant Ghandi al-Sahmarani

Andrew McGregor

January 6, 2011

The late-December murder of Lebanese Islamist and Jund al-Sham commander Ghandi Sahmarani (a.k.a. Abu Ramiz) was an instructive example of the changing balance of power in Lebanon’s Ayn al-Hilweh refugee camp, which exploded in Islamist-inspired violence in 2007.

GhandiFormer Jund al-Sham Commander Ghandi Sahmarani

While political assassinations are far from unknown in the Palestinian camps, Sahmarani’s death followed a different pattern from the usual shootings and bombings. Though exact details remain unclear, it appears that Sahmarani was brutally tortured for as long as 48 hours before his ultimate death by hanging or a gunshot to the mouth (Now Lebanon, January 3). There was no claim of responsibility for the killing. Sahmarani, a native of Tripoli, was closely tied to the Ayn al-Hilweh camp for over 20 years. Following the discovery of his body the Lebanese Army moved additional forces to the entrance of the camp, but the anticipated unrest never materialized (Naharnet, December 27, 2010; December 28, 2010).

Established in 2004, Jund al-Sham (“The Army of Greater Syria”) is a splinter group of the larger Usbat al-Ansar (“League of Partisans”), an armed Salafist movement formed in the 1980s. Unlike a number of other Salafist groups operating in the Palestinian refugee camps, both Usbat al-Ansar and Jund al-Sham include native Lebanese members, like Sahmarani, as well as Palestinians in their ranks (Naharnet, May 31, 2008). The small group of roughly 50 Jund al-Sham militants joined the Fatah al-Islam movement in the bitter fighting against the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) that erupted in the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp in 2007 and later spread to Ayn al-Hilweh.

Sources within the camp say the brutal killing was not politically motivated, but rather came in response to allegations that Sahmarani had raped a number of married and unmarried women within the site (Now Lebanon, January 3). One Islamist leader who declined to be named told a Beirut daily that Sahmarani was killed “for moral reasons” after raping a married woman and videotaping her naked (Daily Star [Beirut], December 29, 2010). Lebanese radio reported that the killers had been identified and were part of Sahmarani’s “inner circle” (Voice of Lebanon Radio, December 27, 2010).

Jund al-Sham has had frequent clashes with the secular Palestinian Fatah movement led by Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas (a.k.a. Abu Mazin) (al-Hayat, March 24, 2008). Fatah security official Mahmud Abd al-Hamid Isa “al-Lino” in particular has been in the forefront of efforts to rein in Jund al-Sham extremists, who have frequently endangered relations between the Palestinians and Lebanese authorities. Al-Lino is a senior commander in Fatah’s Palestinian Armed Struggle (PAS), which serves as a civil police force in the Palestinian camps. The camps are administered by Palestinian authorities rather than the Lebanese government under the terms of a treaty. Recently the Islamist factions have been cooperating with the PAS to restore order and security to the Palestinian camps, leaving little room for extremists like Sahmarani. Even other armed Islamist groups such as Usbat al-Ansar have participated in campaigns to disarm and dismantle the Jund al-Sham organization. Under pressure from all sides, many Jund al-Sham militants have fled to Europe, joined the jihad in Iraq, or returned to the ranks of Usbat al-Ansar.

Fatah’s al-Lino issued a prompt denial of Fatah involvement in the killing of Sahmarani, describing it as “an incident shrouded in mystery” (Daily Star [Beirut], December 29, 2010).  Though an Ayn al-Hilweh shop owned by a PAS major was bombed shortly after the discovery of Sahmarani’s body, authorities were reluctant to make any connection between the two events. Authorities are likely correct in this; considering the circumstances and method of Sahmarani’s murder, his near complete isolation, the general desire, even among Islamists, for security and the unsupportable nature of the allegations against Sahmarani, retaliation for his death would definitely be inadvisable for his few remaining supporters. His followers (if any indeed still exist) might be more likely to seek the services of human smugglers to emigrate to Europe, a path frequently taken by other Ayn al-Hilweh militants who have found themselves under pressure in the close confines of the camp. The new but largely powerless Jund al-Sham leadership will be under close scrutiny from Palestinian security forces, Lebanese intelligence and even their fellow Islamists in Ayn al-Hilweh.

This article first appeared in the January 6, 2011 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

Gaza Salafists Demand Submission of Hamas “Apostates”

Andrew McGregor

March 4, 2010

In a recent interview, a commander of the Masadat al-Mujahideen, a Gaza-based Salafist militant group, described his movement’s confrontation with Hamas, demanding that the Islamist movement “repent” its apostasy and stop fighting the Salafists “on behalf of the Jews” (Shabakat al-Tahadi al-Islamiya, February 16). Beset by internal dissension over prisoner swap negotiations with Israel, an international embargo, the cutting off of its tunnel smuggling system by Egyptian forces, and the assassination of a leading Hamas commander in Dubai, Hamas now faces an ongoing and often violent struggle with Salafist militants who reject Hamas leadership.

Ibn al-TaymiyaRepresentation of Shaykh Ibn Taymiya

Describing his movement as a “Salafist Jihadi group,” Shaykh Abu Ubaydah al-Ansari outlined the motivation of Masadat al-Mujahideen. “We gathered and agreed to support our religion and liberate our lands and sanctuaries, not out of patriotism, but as a compulsory Islamic duty. Whenever one expanse of the lands of Muslims is occupied, Muslims must liberate it, under Islam.” Typical of Salafi-Jihadi groups, Shaykh Abu Ubaydah goes on to cite the influence of Shaykh Ibn Taymiya (1263-1328), whose fatwa declaring nominally Muslim Mongol invaders “apostates” because their use of “man-made laws” rather than Shari’a gave the Mameluke rulers of Egypt and Syria the necessary religious justification to fight invaders who claimed to be fellow Muslims. In this context, Abu Ubaydah quotes Ibn Taymiya, “There is no more necessary duty – after faith – than pushing back the attacking enemy who corrupts the religion and the world, under any condition. Yet, if the enemy wants to attack Muslims, repulsing him is the duty of everybody, whether they volunteered or not.” Though Ibn Taymiya’s works remain controversial in Islamic theological studies, Salafists tend to imbue him with an authority just short of the Qur’an and the Hadiths in legitimacy. Ibn Taymiya’s influence is seen in Abu Ubaydah’s declaration. “He who applies manmade law and human legislation, whether he is a Palestinian or something else, becomes an infidel, and whoever resorts to it for judgment also becomes infidel and fighting him becomes permissible.”

Though Hamas has made significant moves in making Shari’a the law of Gaza, these efforts fall short of Salafist expectations. Abu Ubaydah refers to “imitations of Shari’a,” and asks, “What can we say about one who applies Shari’a as legislated by himself? There is no doubt that this person is an infidel, as agreed by all scholars, no matter how big his turban is, nor how small his garment.”

The Palestinian Salafists are also displeased with Hamas’ failure to prosecute a jihad against Israel and what they perceive as a decline in anti-Israel militancy on the movement’s part since it formed the Gaza government. “Formerly, they were fighting the Jews, but currently they fight those who fight and confront the Jews [i.e. the Salafists]… If they want to repent, stop their unilateral battle against us, and leave us alone, we will welcome their desire in order to devote ourselves to fighting the Jews. However, if they insist on fighting us on behalf of the Jews and to keep their positions, the conflict will not be settled… We believe that it is not permissible to reconcile with them for they have become apostates.”

This article first appeared in the March 4, 2010 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor