Though the first prominent assault by Salafi-Jihadis inGaza occurred before the Israeli withdrawal in August and September 2005, it was not until the period of anarchy caused by fighting between Fatah and Hamas in 2006 and 2007 that such groups proliferated and their attacks became widespread. These, however, were directed mainly at symbols of Western or un-Islamic influence within Gaza, such as internet cafes, music shops, video stores, hair salons and pharmacies.Since Hamas took over and restored security in Gaza, Salafi-Jihadis have had much less freedom of manoeuvre. The faceless groups that sprung up and claimed responsibility for attacks during the period of post-election turmoil– Jund Allah (God’s Soldiers), Suyuf al-Haq (Swords of Righteousness), Jaysh al-Quds al-Islami – Tandhim al-Qa’ida fi Ard al-Ribat (Jerusalem Islamic Army – al-Qaeda Organisation in Palestine), Fatah al-Islam fi Ard al-Ribat (The Triumph of Islam in Palestine), Jund Muhammad (Soldiers of Muhammad) and Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis (Supporters of Jerusalem) – have mostly disappeared. Somemembers have been killed and imprisoned; others are underground or have new Salafi-Jihadi affiliations; still others, having renounced old beliefs, joined or rejoined established factions. Of the groups that have persisted or since arisen, two have stood out in size and significance: Jaysh al-Islam (Army of Islam) and Jund Ansar Allah (Soldiers of God’s Supporters). The former participated in the 2006 abduction of Israeli corporal Gilad Shalit and the kidnapping over the following year of several foreign journalists; the latter attacked Israeli troops while riding explosive-laden horses in June 2009 and confronted Hamas at the Ibn Taymiyya Mosque in Rafah two months later. Both groups have unsuccessfully challenged Hamas, and both have been led by militants once allied with it. Jaysh al-Islam came to prominence during the chaotic interval following Hamas’s 2006 electoral victory. Hamas found the group useful at first. But as it revealed its sympathies with al-Qaeda, it became a liability, and Hamas, after taking over Gaza, swiftly took action against it. Jaysh al-Islam was formed by members of the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), one of Gaza’s larger militant factions, around the end of 2005. It is led by Mumtaz Dughmush, a former member of the PA’s Preventive Security Organisation who for years allegedly had been contracted for militant operations by both Hamas and Fatah. He comes from one of Gaza’s larger and more powerful clans, which controlled the Sabra neighbourhood of Gaza City until Hamas took it by force in September 2008. A Hamas official claimed Dughmush was deranged, illiterate and obsessed with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the deceased leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Dughmush was reputed to be unafraid of confronting the PA in the years before Hamas took over Gaza. According to a leader of the PRC, of which he was once a member, he had close ties to senior Qassam Brigades leaders, for whom he sometimes did “dirty work” for which they preferred not to be blamed. These operations embroiled him in “personal fights” he did not want the PRC dragged into, which is one reason he left the organisation. In April 2006, Hamas appointed the PRC’s founder, Jamal Abu Samhadana, as chief of oversight of the interior ministry and head of the Executive Force, a policing unit established in Gaza during the tug-of-war over security forces that followed the January 2006 legislative elections. Around this time, according to PRC members, Samhadana and members of the Qassam Brigades began digging a tunnel for a large kidnapping operation inside Israel, but he was assassinated in an Israeli airstrike, on 8 June 2006, before the operation could take place.71 Samhadana’s tunnel was used just under three weeks later, when members of Hamas, the PRC and Dughmush’s splinter group, Jaysh al-Islam, kidnapped Shalit. Two Israeli soldiers died in the operation, as did two Palestinian militants, one of them a member of Jaysh al-Islam, which announced its existence the following day. At the time of the abduction, Jaysh al-Islam had not revealed any signs that it intended to conduct the sort of attacks against Westerners that would cast Hamas’s past collaboration with the group in an unfavourable light. But seven weeks after Shalit’s capture, it seized two journalists working with Fox News (U.S.), called for the “liberation of Muslims detained in American prisons” and forced the hostages to convert to Islam before letting them go. Hamas said it had received assurances that similar acts would not recur. The following year, after its March 2007 capture of Alan Johnston, a British reporter for the BBC, Jaysh al-Islam demanded the release from UK custody of an al-Qaeda-affiliated Palestinian-Jordanian cleric, Abu Qatada al-Filastini (Omar Mahmoud Othman), whose recorded sermons were found in a Hamburg apartment rented by oneof the 11 September 2001 hijackers, Muhammad Atta.Crisis Group Middle East Report N°104, 29 March 2011
We'll be back soon with an opeartional review and conclusions regarding the terror attack that took place on august 22 in south Israel.