An al-Qaida-linked group said three gunmen killed in the West Bank by Israeli security forces last week were its members, and that their presence there showed that the Islamist network had taken root in the Palestinian territories.
Al-Qaida has struggled to build up significant support in the West Bank, analysts say, and the Palestinian Authority last week denied an Israeli report the men were linked to the organization.
“By the will of Allah, the global jihadi doctrine has reached the bank of pride, the West Bank, planting its foothold after all attempts to thwart its presence,” said a statement posted by Majles Shura al-Mujahideen, or Holy Warriors’ Assembly, on an Islamist web forum.
Such groups have some grassroots support in Gaza, which is governed by Hamas.
Israeli officials had said the three Palestinians killed on Tuesday belonged to an al- Qaida-linked cell plotting attacks.
They said the men were shot after opening fire at Israeli troops who tried to arrest them.
On Sunday, PA security forces spokesman Adnan Damiri said he had no information about the presence of al-Qaida-linked groups in the West Bank but that Palestinian investigators were looking into Tuesday’s incident.
In its online statement, Majles Shura al-Mujahideen denounced the peacemaking efforts and threatened attacks on Israel and the PA.
“We call on every sincere person to cut off what is called ‘negotiations,’ which causes one’s nose to turn away with its foul stench of collaboration,” the statement said. “We are serious about fighting the aggression against religion by the blaspheming Jews and the hypocritical collaborators.”
In Israel, senior security sources said the extremist Salafi jihadist movement that drove the gunmen to act remains a marginal force, but one that could grow in scope and danger if it exploits a power vacuum in the West Bank.
The terror cell that was intercepted and found to be in possession of explosives and firearms last week had been planning to kidnap IDF soldiers, according to the security sources.
The armed men, from the village of Yatta, also planned on attacking the Palestinian Authority, security sources said.
“Salafi jihadism is an idea, not an organization,” one source said. “According to this idea, everything that is a state but not ruled according to Islamic law is an infidel entity. For them, this holds true of the Palestinian Authority and Israel.”
“To say that it’s a phenomenon is going too far. But the idea is spreading.” the source said.
Yaakov Lappin contributed to this report.