Hamas arrests Army of Islam official

Group holding BBC reporter kidnaps 10 Hamas members in retaliation.

hamas in gaza 2 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
hamas in gaza 2 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Hamas militiamen on Monday detained a number of Palestinians who were involved in the kidnapping of BBC correspondent Alan Johnston in the Gaza Strip more than three months ago. Hamas officials told The Jerusalem Post that one of the detainees, Ahmed Mathloum, who is better known as Khattab al-Makdissi, served as a spokesman for a group calling itself the Army of Islam, headed by Mumtaz Dughmush. The detentions came only hours after Mathloum announced that his group had prepared 30 car bombs that would be used to foil any attempt by Hamas to release the correspondent by force. "Mathloum was directly involved in the abduction of the British journalist," said Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman in the Gaza Strip. "He was also involved in previous kidnappings of foreigners in the Gaza Strip and in the killing of Hamas members." Barhoum said that Mathloum was captured after he and a small group of his followers opened fire at Hamas militiamen who were manning a checkpoint in Gaza City. "This man is a leader of a dangerous armed gang that was behind many kidnappings and murders in the Gaza Strip," Barhoum said. "He and his men were working for [former Fatah security commander] Muhammad Dahlan, who provided them with money and weapons. Today they are continuing to receive money from Fatah leaders in Ramallah to create an atmosphere of anarchy and lawlessness in the Gaza Strip. Their goal is to show that Hamas is not capable of enforcing law and order." The Hamas spokesman claimed that his movement was very close to reaching a deal with Johnston's captors had it not been for the intervention of Dahlan and his friends. "Dahlan and other Fatah leaders in Ramallah have been warning the kidnappers against releasing the journalist because they are afraid that Hamas would take credit for his release," he said. "The kidnapping of Johnston and other foreigners in the Gaza Strip causes grave damage to our people and cause," he added. "The kidnappers want to destroy our reputation and show the world that we are a group of gangsters fighting each other. But these thugs will soon learn that the era of gangsters and armed clans in the Gaza Strip is over." In response to the detentions, members of the Army of Islam kidnapped 10 Hamas university students in various parts of the Gaza Strip. A senior Hamas official said that the Army of Islam, which claims to be linked to al-Qaida, is "nothing but a group of thugs and murderers" headed by Dughmush and other members of his clan. For the past two weeks, Hamas militiamen have been surrounding an area called the Tal al-Islam in the Sabra neighborhood of Gaza City, where the clan lives, demanding that Johnston be released without conditions. The official told the Post that Johnston was being held in one of Mumtaz's houses in the area. "We know exactly where he is and who's guarding him," he told the Post. "It's only a matter of time before we lay our hands on the kidnappers." Sources in Gaza City said that most of the members of the Dughmush clan, which has a 400-strong militia, were afraid to leave their homes for fear of being targeted by Hamas militiamen. In the past two weeks, three members of the clan - Ahmed, Munir and Farid Dughmush - were killed by Hamas militiamen after being spotted in other parts of Gaza City. Another two men from the clan were detained by Hamas as they emerged from a mosque following last Friday's prayers. Another Hamas official said that at least 15 members of the clan, including Mumtaz Dughmush, were wanted by Hamas for their involvement in a series of kidnappings and murders that took place in the Gaza Strip over the past year. "The clan is divided today," he said. "Some of its members are working for Fatah and Dahlan, while others are affiliated with other groups such as the Popular Resistance Committees, which consists of various armed factions." According to the official, the clan has long been involved in different types of criminal activities. "We're talking about mercenaries who will do anything for money and guns," he said. "In the past they were paid to kill [former Palestinian Authority Military Intelligence head] Musa Arafat. They used to receive a lot of money and weapons from Fatah." He said that Mumtaz and his men were holding on to Johnston as a human shield to deter Hamas from raiding their hideouts. "In the past, they asked for money and jobs in the Palestinian Authority," he noted. "Now that Hamas is in power, they know they can't blackmail us, and all they want is to stay alive."