Ibrahim Qannan
Ma'an News Agency
April 19, 2010 - 12:00am

"We, the Salafists, count more than 11,000 members who carry with them jihadist teachings from both Ayman At-Thawahri and Osama Bin Laden," said Abu Al-Hareth, leader of the Jund Ansar Allah, during an interview in his poorly lit Gaza home.

"Of this number, 70 percent are members of the Jaljalat, a group made up of former Al-Qassam Brigades and Hamas affiliates," he explained.

The Salafist movement shot to public attention in the summer of 2009, when an Imam declared Gaza an "Islamic emirate" during a Friday sermon in southern Gaza. Fierce clashes ensued between Hamas security forces and Salafist affiliates, leaving 16 dead.

The group is widely considered an extremist militant bloc, extracting ideas and beliefs from Al-Qaida's call for Jihad and the implementation of Shariah (Islamic) law globally.

The name Jaljalat is rumored to have been taken from a religious song encouraging Al-Qaida's form of Jihad, widely known in Iraq, Chechnya and Afghanistan.

"Salafi thought is often described as lowly or base but we have suffered under harsh security campaigns that have affected the group's organizational structures."

The Jaljalat: Gaza's four Salafist groups

Abu Al-Hareth does not fit the stereotype of a Salafi follower, restrictive with no sense of humor. Rather, he is pleasant and charismatic. He explains that the Jaljalat incorporates Gaza's four Salafist groups: Jund Ansar Allah (Soldiers of God's Compassion); Jam'at Jaysh Al-Islam (The Army of Islam); At-Tawheed wa Al-Jihad (Unity and Jihad); and Jund Allah (God's Soldiers).

"These groups do not have any links with Al-Qaida but its members are influenced by its world view and Jihadist attacks carried out by them, the first one being the targeting of the Twin Towers in the US and attacks in Iraq, Afghanistan and others."

"Jihad for Allah's sake and applying Shariah law is the main factor uniting Salafist affiliates," he said, describing Bin Laden and Ath-Thawaheri as the theologians of the nation and its Sheikhs.

The leader said the Jaljalat do not have local religious scholars who advise them in Gaza, but counted among the movement's most influential sheiks abroad Abu Mohammad Al-Maqdisi, the spiritual mentor of Al-Qaida's initial leader in Iraq, and the fatwas -- or religious decrees -- issued by the 14th century Islamic scholar Ibn Taymiyyah and his pupil Ibn Al-Qaim, as well as "many contemporary scholars."

The rise of Salafism in Gaza

"The first real appearance of the Salafist groups was in 2001, when it carried out a military attack claimed by Jund Allah," Al-Hareth said.

"But Hamas' participation in elections and joining the 'atheist' Palestinian Legislative Council was the spark that ignited Salafi thought, gradually appearing and spreading among young men."

Early Salafist groups in Gaza went under a slew of names, appearing largely in central and southern Gaza, including The Islamic Swords of Righteousness, the Ummah Army and "other names that have vanished because they have joined up with other groups."

The leader added that these groups carried out many "qualitative military attacks, during which a number of Israelis were killed, but these attacks were not announced."

"These groups are not interested in shedding light on themselves at this stage; we are trying to defend ourselves and to attack the occupation soldiers who entered Gaza because Jihad is an individual duty. The nation cannot get on the right track without it."

The leader denied that the name Jaljalat was chosen because of the infamous song, but rather because it was the name Hamas affiliates used to describe members who defected to join the Salafist movement in central Gaza.

Hamas crackdown on the movement

After declaring the Gaza Strip an "Islamic Emirate" in the Ibn Taymiyyah mosque in Rafah, Hamas launched a series of security campaigns aimed at curbing the Salafist groups' influence in the coastal enclave, leading to fierce clashes which saw 16 killed. The movement is under "round the clock monitoring," he said.

"What followed these events was the chasing, pursuit, and arrest of affiliates, creating a gap in the various groups and its ability to communicate with members," Abu Al-Hareth said.

Hamas' security forces, he said, are "active in confronting the Salafists ... out of fear of the spread of its thought among many committed young men, leading to many defecting from Hamas."

Despite these measures, Abu Al-Hareth said, the Salafist groups will continue to grow, recruit and operate.

"We demand a Shariah dialogue with Hamas - not a political or security-related one. The [Gaza] government has made many mistakes which has increased tensions. We criticize Hamas for not applying Islamic Shariah."


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