Revived Mujahidin faction emerges in the Gaza Strip

Ansar Al-Mujahidin says it wants to bridge divisions between Hamas and Fatah; "rise of jihadist groups in Gaza creating headache for Hamas."

Ansar Al-Mujahidin spokesman 311 (photo credit: The Media Line)
Ansar Al-Mujahidin spokesman 311
(photo credit: The Media Line)
GAZA CITY, Gaza – A new break-away armed faction with declared links to Fatah has emerged in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip claiming to have thousands of members.
At a press conference held after evening prayers in Gaza this week, a trio of masked men dressed in camouflage and toting assault rifles said they were the Ansar Al-Mujahidin, an independent Palestinian political armed faction in Gaza and with roots in the Fatah-held West Bank.
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“We have hundreds if not thousands of members in Gaza and the West Bank and we expect to grow now we are a new faction which is independent and works towards a free Palestine,” said the group spokesman identified only as Abu Bilal.
A man identifying himself as Asa’d Abu Sharee’a said he was the group’s secretary general.
According to Abu Bilal, who spoke with The Media Line, the group had previously existed under the name Kataeb Al-Mujahidin, and had claimed responsibility for numerous attacks on Israelis in 2009 and 2010. Its leadership had been killed in a series of Israeli targeted interceptions, Abu Bilal said.  
“We have successfully executed many jihad missions against Israel, our enemy, and we have given so many souls to Palestine because the Israeli enemy has assassinated many of our leaders and leading members,” he said.
According to Abu Bilal, his group had originally been linked with Shuhada Al-Aqsa, a Fatah-affiliated armed faction. They decided to break away when they said many had become involved in “vandalism and personal interest.”
The spokesman said they emerged now because they had set their goals, built their plans and became ready to fight to free Palestine from the “Israeli enemy and occupier.”
“Now is the right time. Palestine is heading towards an important crossroad next month while we see if the United Nations will vote for a Palestinian state or not. We want to also try to bring Fatah and Hamas together. We have stood against the Palestinian division from its start and asked for Palestinian unity because united we are stronger.
“We have strong ties with all Palestinian faction specially Hamas and Fatah since we were from Fatah and executed joint jihad missions with Hamas and other armed factions,” Abu Bilal added.
Abu Bilal announced that Ansar Al-Mujahideen stood against the division and the political arrest between Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Fatah in the West Bank.
“Both Hamas and Fatah and other factions are a part of Palestine, the Palestinian cause and the Palestinian process. We should all unite for Palestine,” Abu Bilal stressed.
“Hamas will not have a problem with us; we are not here to fight Hamas or spread chaos. Hamas joined us in the past during the joint jihad missions. They know us well and they know our Islamic Jihad method. We don’t have a problem with Fatah either. We just wish to see the Palestinian reconciliation active again and advancing soon before September,” Abu Bilal concluded.
There was some mystique about Ansar Al-Mujahidin. By calling themselves mujahidin, or holy warriors, they have taken on an Islamist character. Israeli security sources said the group was part of the simmering Salafi movement, an Islamic militant group that seeks to replace all existing Arab regimes with an Islamic caliphate. 
Three Salafi movements, Al-Tawhid Wal-Jihad, Jaish Al-Islam and Jaljala, all loosely associated with al-Qaida, were said to have been involved in the murder of an Italian peace activists in Gaza last April.
The estimates of their members vary from some 500 to 5,000. It is impossible to verify identities of the members
Caught in a double bind, the ruling Hamas doesn’t want to be seen as standing in the way of Islamists fighting Israel, but it also doesn’t want to see the media lauding their events and serving as a recruitment vehicle. Local journalists are sternly warned not to cover such events.
“It’s a growing headache for the Hamas as the global jihad movement is growing in the Gaza Strip,” said one Israeli security official, on condition he not be named. “They are Salafists or Jihadists and are setting up these organizations all of the time. But they have no real power because the Hamas is sitting down hard on them, for the moment.”
However, members of Ansar Al-Mujahidin, who are devout Islamists, deny links with the Salafi movement.