In recent weeks and months a wave of Salafi protest against the ruling Hamas
government has swept the Gaza Strip over issues including the treatment of
prisoners, corruption, and religion.
One of the groups speaking out has
been Majlis Shura al-Mujahidin fi Aknaf Bayt al- Maqdis, a jihadi organization
sympathetic to al-Qaida. By glomming onto a mainstream Salafi cause, MSM is
attempting to co-opt individuals to gain a stronger footing within Gaza to
challenge Hamas (albeit as yet only at the political, and not military level),
which they view as an enemy similar to Israel, though on a lesser
FOLLOWING A cross-border attack on Israel carried out by one
Egyptian and one Saudi fighter, the organization’s formation was first declared
on 19 June, 2012, and was announced in a video released from the Sinai
Peninsula, featuring seven fighters. The two attackers read their martyrdom
wills in the video as well.
In the first part of the video, the speaker
in the center reads out a statement and begins by invoking the Koran, “Verily
does God love those who fight in his path in a row as though they were a firm
edifice” (61:4), followed by references to standard global jihadist themes such
as the necessity of implementing the Shari’a on Earth and reviving the glory of
The Majlis also appeals to fellow Muslims in countries like
Lebanon and Jordan, as well as to the “Syrian Muslim people – the mujahid
[people] brutalized under the control of the idolatrous, criminal Nusayri
[derogatory term for “Alawite”] regime.”
The flag used is identical to
the one pioneered by al-Qaida’s Iraqi branch, known as the Islamic State of
Iraq, and the group praises “Sheikh Osama bin Laden” in its founding statement.
Yet, while the al-Qaida affiliation thus illustrated is not in doubt, the
group’s primary focus on attacking Israel has been evident from the
This is apparent in the reference to the obligation of “the
people of Tawhid [monotheism]” to heed the “screams of al-Aqsa and the moans of
prisoners under the grip of the enemy Jewish cowards.” The founding statement
includes in its conclusion a call for God to defeat “the Jews and the kuffar
In a video from October of last year, the Majlis likewise
vowed to fight the Jews as enemies of God. In the wake of an April 2013 rocket
attack on Eilat, the group released a video, part of which featured scenes of
Jews praying at the Western Wall, denounced by the Majlis as the “Judaization of
The video then continues with the recurring theme of treatment
of Muslim prisoners by Israel.
The focus on Israel is also made clear by
the fact that the organization maintains a presence among Salafist jihadists
located in the Gaza Strip. In light of Hamas’ detention and torture of jihadist
individuals, the Majlis has on more than one occasion raised the issue of Hamas’
conduct toward Salafist militants.
For example, a senior Salafist in Gaza
affiliated with the Majlis recently affirmed: “We will continue the jihad
regardless of the stance of Egypt or Hamas,” adding that the Majlis has “precise
knowledge on the complete cooperation between Egypt and Hamas in the war against
In a similar vein, the Majlis recently released a
statement calling for the release of all Salafist detainees held prisoner by the
Hamas government: “Everyone who has a free voice and noble pen, and everyone who
has a living conscience and faith should raise his voice to pressure the
dismissed government to put a stop to its pursuit against the rights of its
CRITICISM OF Hamas has been a recurring theme in Salafist
discourse. A very noteworthy example is a Salafist-jihadist video (not from an
al-Qaida affiliate) from about a year ago that purports to document evidence on
numerous counts of Hamas’ perpetrating – in the words of the video title –
“massacres... in Gaza against the Salafist mujahideen.”
For example, at
17:40 onwards, the video offers a purportedly intercepted radio transmission
from the leadership of the Izzadin Kassam Brigades giving orders to destroy
houses and a mosque frequented by Salafists with missiles.
affirmation to continue jihad despite perceived Egypt-Hamas cooperation against
Salafist militants, the latest call by the Majlis for Hamas to release Salafist
detainees comes following the killing by Israel of a Majlis militant called
Haitham Ziyad al- Meshaal, now commemorated as a “martyr” in a video released by
The day before Haitham was assassinated, relatives of
imprisoned Salafist militants in Gaza held a demonstration calling on Hamas’
security forces to release their detained kinsfolk. The al-Qaida flag’s presence
may indicate that some of the imprisoned fighters in question are members of the
It turns out that Haitham, who was targeted as a suspect behind
the rocket attacks on Eilat, had once been a member of the Izzadin Kassam
Brigades but according to the Majlis, left out of disillusionment with Hamas’
participation in “the game of democracy” (a reference to the 2006 legislative
elections that were judged to be free) and its “removal of the divine
One should compare this sentiment with a statement from the
group that condemned Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood and some Salafist parties
(e.g. Egypt’s an-Nour) for entering into the “mud of
Haitham’s dislike of the concept of democracy is corroborated
by his testimony in the video celebrating his martyrdom.
Hamas condemned Israel’s targeting of Haitham, but many in jihadist circles did
not fail to notice Hamas’ double standards.
For instance, the jihadist
outlet Ibn Taymiyyah Media released a statement noting that the Salafist
jihadists in Gaza have been caught between the “hammer of Jewish aircraft and
the anvil of Hamas and its security apparatus,” noting the ongoing imprisonment
and disappearances of Salafist militants.
In the meantime, however,
Hamas, which has a vested interest in portraying itself as the true spearhead of
“resistance” against Israel, remains undeterred from cracking down on Salafists
it perceives as its rivals, having just announced the arrest of several
“extremist” Salafist militants in Gaza on charges of stealing
The accusation of stealing weaponry – a familiar charge on
Hamas’ part – is strongly denied by the Salafists, including those affiliated
with the Majlis, which in October of last year released a video to refute the
The video purportedly shows how they themselves manufacture
projectiles to fire against Israel.
The global jihadist ideology of the
Majlis and its animosity toward Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood
notwithstanding, it should not be thought that the group is planning on armed
confrontation with Hamas or the Egyptian government anytime soon.
contrary, when there was an attack last year on Egyptian border guards at the
Rafah crossing into Gaza, the Majlis was quick to issue a denial of
responsibility, while condemning the Egyptian army’s stance against jihadist
IN SHORT, the group will continue to attempt to carry out
attacks on Israel, while avoiding an open fight against Egypt or Hamas. Even so,
Salafist resentment about treatment under Hamas could lead to a more general
shift in the Salafist trend in Gaza towards the open al-Qaida affiliation of the
Majlis. Indeed, the banners on display at that demonstration in Gaza on Monday
by the relatives of imprisoned Salafists may be a strong indication that such a
turn is already underway.
To an extent, it would seem Hamas heeds
internal Salafist pressure to enforce Islamic law more rigidly, as illustrated
by the recent initiative for gender segregation in schools.
Yet in the
eyes of the Salafist militants, these Islamization moves are merely cosmetic and
do not compensate for imprisoning and torturing Salafist brethren and so
ultimately cannot off-put attempts by the Majlis to coopt Salafist opinion in
Gaza towards its orientation.
The author is a Shillman-Ginsburg Fellow at
the Middle East Forum and a student at Brasenose College, Oxford University.
This article was originally published at Jihadology, a site providing primary
research material on global jihadism.