Tensions Flare Among Gaza Jihadis As Jaysh Al-Islam Is Accused Of Betraying ISIS Members To Hamas

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January 17, 2021

The following report is now a complimentary offering from MEMRI's Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor (JTTM). For JTTM subscription information, click here.

In recent weeks, tensions have escalated between supporters of the Islamic State (ISIS) in Gaza and Jaysh Al-Islam, a self-professed Salafi-jihadi group based in Gaza, following the apparent arrest of several men from Gaza who were caught en route to join ISIS in Sinai and ended up in the hands of the Hamas internal security apparatus. Ardent ISIS supporters lashed out at Jaysh Al-Islam on social media, openly accusing it of betrayal and of handing over their comrades to Hamas. Most of these posts were removed shortly after they appeared. Comments by ISIS supporters appear to indicate that an agreement was reached between Jaysh Al-Islam and ISIS. While the exact details of the agreement are unknown, it may be speculated that ISIS operatives from Sinai intervened and reached an understanding with Jaysh Al-Islam, according to which ISIS supporters would delete their posts and the points of contention would be silenced. In fact, the Facebook posts accusing Jaysh Al-Islam of betraying ISIS members to Hamas were abruptly removed, and at least one ISIS member was released from Hamas custody. Yet even after this apparent understanding was reached, some ISIS supporters continued to share inflammatory posts and even took the extraordinary step of revealing the identity of a senior Jaysh Al-Islam figure whom they accuse of being involved in betraying would-be ISIS recruits to Hamas.

Jaysh Al-Islam has declared itself a jihadi or Salafi-jihadi group, and at times has been affiliated with Al-Qaeda or ISIS. Especially in light of its support for ISIS, the current clash raises many questions. The following report attempts to shed light on this row, which provides insight into the fraught relationship between Jaysh Al-Islam and ISIS and its supporters.

Background

Jaysh Al-Islam (the Army of Islam, henceforth: JI) is a militant group which has been active in the Gaza Strip since 2006, when its leader Mumtaz Dughmush left the Popular Resistance Committees[1] (PRC) along with militants mostly from the Dughmush clan, due to personal power struggles with the PRC leadership. In its early days, JI cooperated with Hamas and participated in the kidnapping of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit. However, it later professed the adoption of a global jihad ideology, and carried out several high-profile operations against Western targets, namely kidnappings of foreign journalists, which embarrassed Hamas in the early days of its control of the Strip. It also levelled accusations against Hamas for failing to establish shari'a law in the Strip. These challenges led to crackdowns by Hamas and violent clashes between its security forces and JI and the Dughmush clan. However, since 2008 there hasn't been any significant friction, and JI participated in attacks on Israel during the rounds of armed conflict (in 2009, 2012, and 2014).  


Mumtaz Dughmush, leader of Jaysh Al-Islam

Despite being identified with Al-Qaeda and ISIS, JI has never professed allegiance to them,[2] and neither movement has acknowledged any connection to the Gaza-based group.[3] JI remained distinct and limited itself to its activities in the Gaza Strip. In October 2019, after the death of then-ISIS leader Al-Baghdadi, JI offered its condolences in a respectful eulogy it published, but stopped short of mentioning the new ISIS leader, Abu Ibrahim Al-Hashemi, let alone pledging an oath of allegiance to him.[4]


Jaysh Al-Islam gunmen brandish their weapons as they parade through the streets of Gaza

Jaysh Al-Islam's Relations With ISIS Sinai Province

While JI is not directly connected to ISIS, certain ties do exist between it and the closest ISIS branch, the Sinai Province. In recent years, JI has fulfilled a role in the movement of men from the Gaza Strip to the ranks of ISIS in the Sinai Peninsula. This can be confirmed from various sources, primarily JI's own boasting about the fact that its fighters were killed in Sinai. Also, there have been cases in which ISIS published commemorative photos of its members who were killed in Sinai, who were subsequently claimed by JI to be its members or former members. JI's social media accounts and official publications regularly honor and commemorate Gazan fighters who were killed in the ranks of ISIS Sinai by publishing their photos, biographies and so on. Furthermore, JI media operatives have published exclusive photos of jihadis who were killed in Sinai. This proves that JI maintains some form of communication with ISIS operatives in Sinai and continues to take pride in the men it sends there.[5]


A photo released by ISIS of fighters killed in Sinai, followed by photos of the same fighters released by Jaysh Al-Islam with its own logo

ISIS Supporters Accuse Jaysh Al-Islam Of Deviance From The Salafi Path

In spite of these ties between JI and ISIS in Sinai, within the Gaza Strip itself relations between JI and ISIS supporters have been tenuous for years,[6] and every once in a while these tensions surface on social media. Last May, a Facebook user from Gaza who calls himself Bakr Al-'Adnani accused JI of deviance from the Salafi path, following a dispute over weapons held by a resident of Gaza. While the details of the case are blurry, Bakr Al-'Adnani's accusation is clear – JI submitted to the ruling of a Hamas tribunal, which is understood as submitting to a non-Islamic court and to man-made law, a grave offense in the jihadi doctrine:

"Clarifying the misguidance and deviance of Jaysh Al-Aflam [a play on words: the Army of Films instead of the Army of Islam].., The latest development in their group is their acceptance of the ruling of the tawaghit[7] and sitting with them to decide and judge in the issue of the weapons owned by R.'A. Their organization [JI] attacked the home of a man called R.'A. but didn't take anything from him. The matter reached the Hamas intelligence service, and with the intelligence service's assistance the matter was resolved and the two sides reached a solution which was to submit to the judgment of the intelligence service. And so a meeting was held between representatives of Jaysh Al-Islam, headed by M.D. [likely Mumtaz Dughmush himself, the leader of JI] and the one called Al-Quqa [Al-Quqa is a well-known family from Gaza, some notable militant leaders come from this family], a third man whose name did not reach us, and the other side [in the dispute, the Gazan knowns as R.'A.], and the intelligence official who judged between them, whose name need not be mentioned here. This is the story in brief. What would you call this matter? Submission to something other than Allah's laws. As Allah said [Quran 4:65]: 'But no! By your Lord, they will never be true believers until they accept you as the judge in their disputes.'"[8]


The above Facebook post by Bakr Al-'Adnani accuses JI of submitting to non-Islamic judgment

ISIS Supporters After Recent Arrests: Jaysh Al-Islam Handed Over ISIS Members To Hamas

The latest manifestation of the tension between the organizations occurred sometime in late November or early December 2020, when ISIS supporters from Gaza reported that three men from Gaza who were on their way to join ISIS in Sinai were arrested by the Hamas internal security apparatus. Among them was Ayman Omar aka Abu Wahib from Rafah, a well-known figure in the jihadi community in the Gaza Strip. On December 8, 2020, an ISIS supporter who goes by the name Dahiya Al-Shami decried the arrest of these would-be ISIS recruits in a series of Facebook posts, accusing Jaysh Al-Islam of handing them over to Hamas. The posts by Dahiyah Al-Shami were deleted shortly after being posted. It appears that he and others received orders from ISIS operatives in Sinai to remove them, apparently in order to facilitate an understanding with JI and possibly with Hamas.


Ayman Omar aka Abu Wahib, from Rafah, who was recently arrested by Hamas.

In his series of posts with the hashtags "Abu Wahib the injured lion" and "the exposer of the supposed monotheists," Dahiya Al-Shami writes: "Mu'taz [Matar], 'Ali [family name unknown] and Ayman [Omar, Abu Wahib] have disappeared in the prisons, why? Because the sheikh, may Allah bless his soul [this honorific is a sarcastic reference to JI leader Mumtaz Dughmush], has decided so, and promised the brothers [ISIS operatives] to resolve the matter."

I have been told that the lion, the mujahid Abu Wahib [Ayman Omar from Rafah] has declared that 'there is no humility in our religion', but what has been the result? The darkness of prison, under order of 'the sheikh' [a reference to Mumtaz Dughmush].


Shown above are two of the Facebook posts shared by Dahiyah Al-Shami.

We have brothers in the darkness of the prisons of oppression and tyranny. Those who claim they carry the banner of the [proper Islamic] path handed them over as scapegoats to the tyrants and bullies of the Internal Security apparatus.

Mujahideen who mobilized to the province of glory [i.e. to ISIS's Sinai Province] ended up in the jails of the Hamas tyrants. The reason for this? Abandonment on behalf of the supposed monotheists.

A question we seek an answer for: what was the price of handing over the supporters of the caliphate [ISIS] to the tyrants of Samah [tolerance, Hamas spelled backwards intentionally] on behalf of the supposed monotheists? A handful of cash? A new car? 'but Satan's promises are nothing but deception' [Quran 4:120]."[9]


Mu'taz Matar aka Abu Al-'Iz, shown above, is one of the men arrested by Hamas after being freed from prison.

More Accusations Against Jaysh Al-Islam

Following the arrest of the three Gazans, the tensions between ISIS supporters and JI escalated further, with the airing of more secrets and the hurling of further accusations. An ISIS supporter named Muhammad Ali, whose Facebook account has since been deleted, launched a Facebook group called "Mustaghrib" [bewildered]. The group was supposedly dedicated to discussing issues concerning "monotheists," i.e. the radical ISIS-like Salafis in Gaza. Muhammad Ali began by sharing two posts accusing a certain "degenerate" person of betraying ISIS supporters to Hamas. These were teasers which preceded the exposure of the identity of a man accused of betraying ISIS supporters to Hamas.


A post on the Mustaghrib Facebook group describing the plight of an ISIS fighter from Gaza who was duped by a Jaysh Al-Islam member

In the first post, Muhammad Ali mentions an ISIS fighter from Gaza called Abu Hubayb, who is currently in Sinai, and who was apparently approached by a certain JI operative in an attempt to dupe him and hand him over to the Hamas security apparatus. "Abu Hubayb, the persecuted, patient jihad fighter, stationed on the frontline of jihad in a land of glory in which jihad is taking place [Sinai], will you please tell us my brother about that degenerate who claimed that he represents brothers in [Sinai], only to be found out that he runs a network of deception-seeking to hunt the brothers and turn them over to his masters [in Hamas] ..."

In another post by Muhammad Ali shared in the Mustaghrib group, he writes about the plight of the widow of a jihadi leader, who is apparently being persecuted by Hamas: "Um Al-Walid, the wife of the jihad fighter, the scholar Hisham Al-Sa'idni.[10] She is in dire straits, thrown from the anxiety of alienation in the land of Syria to the torment of jail and imprisonment in Al-Hour prison, to the absence of a provider, the paucity of money, the weight of being entrusted with raising her sons, her widowed daughters and their orphaned sons. Then comes a degenerate who collects donations in her name and steals the money..."[11]

After publishing these posts, Muhammad Ali shared an enigmatic post on the Mustaghrib group, writing "What is coming shall be harsher and more bitter" hinting that there would be more revelations.

The creation of this group and the airing of internal grievances enraged other ISIS supporters. Those who commented on these posts mentioned an agreement that was reached, apparently between ISIS and JI, to avoid discussing the disagreements in the open and to refrain from publishing information about any individual members of the groups.

"Enough!" one user writes, while another, Al-Muthana, scolds the admin of the Mustaghrib group: "Fear Allah! The brothers [ISIS operatives] made us promise  that no information will be published regarding anyone." Al-Muthana also reprimands Dahiya Al-Shami [the Facebook user who wrote the first post about the arrest of ISIS members as described above] in the comments about this post, telling him: "You, my brother, do not deal in matters that will not add to your good deeds." Dahiya Al-Shami replies: "Do not worry. However, it was agreed upon to stop discussing these matters..."[12]


A post on the Mustaghrib group in which the admin teases further exposes

ISIS Supporter Exposes Identity Of Jaysh Al-Islam Operative

The person behind the Mustaghrib Facebook group made good on his promise to publicly shame the JI official whom he accuses of betraying ISIS members. On December 29, 2020, on both the Facebook group and on its corresponding Telegram channel, he posted information about the person he alleges was responsible for spying on jihadis for the Egyptian government and for Hamas:

"The degenerate of Gaza.

Name: Amir Majdi Al-Mursi Shahin.

Nickname: Abu Al-Bara' Al-Muhajir

Address: Gaza, Al-Shuja'iyah [neighborhood]

Affiliation: Jaysh Al-Islam in the environs of Bayt Al-Maqdis [Jerusalem]

Military rank: Shari'a emir, field commander

"This impure man came from Egypt under the pretext of participation in combat. He moved between the organizations of heresy and prostitution in the Gaza Strip under instructions from the Pharaohs of Egypt and the tawaghit of Gaza [Hamas], and ended up in the Jaysh Al-Islam group, may Allah glorify it [written sarcastically]. Eventually this impure man built an exclusive information bank for his masters. He passes on complete details about the military preparation of a group whose details we shall withhold for security reasons [sarcasm again, the writer is referring to ISIS]. The most important question Mustaghrib has is why does the group [Jaysh Al-Islam] insist on embracing this impure man within its ranks, despite the fact that it is aware of his doings?"[13]


The above Telegram post by Mustaghrib exposes JI commander Amir Shahin.

Needless to say, publicizing personal information about a jihadi operative and leveling such accusations are considered a breach of the unwritten rules of online conduct for supporters of jihadi groups. Moreover, Amir Shahin is a well-known figure in Gaza's jihadi circles and online.[14] Soon after the publication of the post about him on the Mustaghrib group and on its Telegram channel, the Muhammad Ali Facebook profile was removed. It can be assumed that fellow jihadis brought about its closure, either by reporting his account to Facebook or by coercing the owner to delete it. Amir Shahin's Facebook profile was likewise removed, and he hasn't been seen online since.


Amir Shaheen, the Jaysh Al-Islam commander accused of collecting information about ISIS members and turning them in to Hamas.

ISIS Supporter: How Does Jaysh Al-Islam Operate Freely Under The Nose Of Hamas?

ISIS supporters continued to vent their frustration with JI. One ISIS supporter wrote a harsh denunciation of JI, in the guise of raising questions about its character and conduct. While attesting that the rank and file members of JI were essentially loyal to the proper Salafi creed, he more than insinuates that JI operates only at the pleasure of Hamas. The supporter, who uses the nickname Zoumali Muwahid writes:[15] "You, as a monotheist and supporter [of ISIS] in the beloved Gaza Strip, what is your view and understanding of what is known as the organization or group Jaysh Al-Islam in Gaza? What is your position toward them, considering that: they have freedom of movement east and west; they have their own base for their physical, military and da'wa training; they have a media outlet called Qimam Agency and other outlets that publish and broadcast all of this group's productions, nasheeds and audio messages; they have a large number of members and an abundance of military gear comprised of light and heavy weapons which appeared in their videos, such as RPG, Kornet rockets, Kalashnikov rifles, and four-wheel drive vehicles. All of these things I mentioned are under the shadow and control of the apostate, secularist Hamas movement. This activity and strange prominence makes you wonder and put a thousand question marks about this group which says that it has an oath of allegiance to the Islamic State and its caliph[16] and espouses the same methodology and creed!

"Especially considering that it is impossible for a monotheist, a supporter of ISIS to establish [a group] or manifest his path, ideology and preaching in the Gaza Strip, because the apostates of the Hamas internal security apparatus would take the harshest measures against him, even resorting at times to killing. What differentiates this group from the other individual monotheist brothers who espouse the same methodology, that allows them this freedom? Are they bound by conditions laid down upon them by Hamas which opens the field for them in the Strip? Why don't we see them attack the enemies of Allah, the Jews, and the agents of the Jews, the Shi'ites of Hamas and its [military wing] Qassam [Brigades]? If they were to take any spontaneous step overstepping the conditions they are bound by, would Hamas get rid of them? Does Hamas have an idea and a plan to benefit from the existence of this group? Such as attracting all the monotheists under one wing to make things easier for itself...? These are questions for the monotheist brothers who know what this group is about. The main reason for this post is only to correct the understanding, and Allah knows one's intentions best. We should add a strong reservation regarding the adherence of this group's members to monotheism and virtues, as we think well of them [as individuals]."[17]


The original post from Zoumali Muwahid appears above.

Jaysh Al-Islam Rejects Accusations Of Collaboration With Hamas And Complains About "Campaign Of Defamation"

JI responded to these accusations with several indignant posts from its supporters and media outlets. One Facebook user who supports JI defended the group in comments on Bakr Al-'Adnani's post and later in his own Facebook post in June 2020. Interestingly, Kaled Waled uses a photo of an ISIS fighter who was killed in the Sinai as his profile photo. He writes:

"To those who defame the group Jaysh Al-Islam in Bayt Al-Maqdis and to those who incite against it, we say to you: Fear Allah regarding us, O worshippers of Allah – fear Allah with regard to this wronged group. If anybody had sought a piece of proof for what they accuse us of and based on which they incite people against us, they would have failed. Their claims remain untrue, their accusations false, without any proof or evidence. If you should ask one of [our accusers], how did you reach your ruling? He would answer, I spoke to trustworthy men. Praise Allah! What if that [supposedly] trustworthy man was one of our rivals, or even an apostate?! If the testimony of one who transgresses our religion is unacceptable, what of [the testimony] of an apostate, what of a polytheist who nullified monotheism! Would you use his words to rule against the monotheists?! We bring our complaint about you to Allah... we shall face you in front of Him."[18]


The Facebook post by Kaled Waled in defense of Jaysh Al-Islam

The Qimam Agency posted an image of the flags of the Gaza factions that took part in the recent "Strong Pillar" military exercise, and pointed out that JI's flag is not among them: "Here we pose a question to those who obstruct, desert, defame, spread suspicions and worship their desires: where is Jaysh Al-Islam among [these factions]? How will you answer when it becomes clear to you that the opposite of the suspicions you spread [is true, i.e. that JI does not cooperate with Hamas]? Your hearts and minds have been shut..."[19]


Telegram post showing flags of Gaza factions participating in the Hamas-led excercise

On January 1, 2021, another official JI outlet, The Central Media Bureau, published a poster denouncing the Facebook posts against it. The top half of the poster shows Facebook posts in flames, indicating that these posts are forbidden, sow strife, and lead their authors to hellfire. This is juxtaposed with a collage of photos of JI fighters, aimed at depicting them as pious defenders of Islam. The caption reads: "The best outcome is for the righteous, the people of the victorious sect."[20]

A Facebook account for Qimam Agency shared the poster and commented: "The poster has a message to those who are waging a campaign of defamation and raising suspicions against the group [JI]. It should be mentioned that the group is currently facing a systematic campaign as part of the war designed to harm it, its commanders and soldiers."[21]


Poster by Jaysh Al-Islam's Central Media Bureau juxtaposing Facebook posts with photos of its fighters

 

[1] Popular Resistance Committees is one of the strongest armed factions in the Gaza Strip. It was initially formed in the year 2000 by operatives from various groups, including Hamas, with the intention of fending off IDF incursions into the Strip's towns and neighborhoods.

[2] In September 2015, a copy of a statement in which JI swore an oath of allegiance to then ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi circulated in the media. However, JI Leader Mumtaz Dughmush rejected the authenticity of the statement. Arabi21.com, September 12, 2015.

[3] There is one known case of contact between JI and Al-Qaeda. In 2006 JI posed a query to Al-Qaeda's leadership regarding the legality of accepting funds from other militant factions to fund its own activities. A copy of the reply to the question by senior Al-Qaeda leader Atiyyat Allah Al-Libi was found in the trove of documents discovered in Osama bin Laden's hideout known as the Abbotabbad Letters. See https://ctc.usma.edu/harmony-program/jaysh-al-islams-questions-to-atiyatullah-al-libi-original-language-2/

[4] Telegram, November 11, 2019; https://www.almarjie-paris.com/12311

[5] One case in point: In January 2020 ISIS commemorated two fighters who were killed in the Sinai. After this a Facebook account associated with Jaysh Al-Islam, bearing he name Abu Muhammad Al-Ansari – the nickname of Mumtaz Dughmush – published other, exclusive photos of the same two fighters, taken in the same location, bearing the Jaysh Al-Islam logo. See MEMRI JTTM report: ISIS Sinai Honors Two Recently Killed Operatives From Gaza, January 26, 2020.

[6] In 2016 a media outlet representing ISIS supporters in Gaza spoke in a statement of the envy felt by men of the Dughmush clan towards ISIS. The statement was a response to an open letter from an ISIS fighter in Sinai to the organization's leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6334,  Exclusive: Letter By ISIS Fighter To Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi Reveals ISIS-Sinai's Ties To Hamas, March 2, 2016.

[7] Taghout - Tawaghit – false gods or idols; a term used for rulers who rule according to man-made laws or are otherwise perceived as enemies of Islam.

[8] Facebook.com, May 3, 2020.

[9] Facebook.com, December 8, 2020.

[10] Hisham Al-Sa'idni – aka Abu Al-Walid Al-Maqdisi, the founder of Jama'at Al-Tawhid wal-Jihad, a Gaza-based Salafi-jihadi group that was active in the years 2008-2012. He was killed by an Israeli airstrike in 2012.

[11] Facebook.com, December 18, 2020.

[12] Facebook.com, December 18, 2020.

[13] Telegram, December 29, 2020.

[14] Many jihadis posted condolences to him upon his mother's death from Covid-19.

[15] Facebook.com, January 4, 2021.

[16] As mentioned, Jaysh Al-Islam did not publicize an oath of allegiance to current ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim Al-Hashemi.

[17] Facebook.com, January 4, 2021. It should be noted that on July 1, 2020, JI released a video showing a full military exercise conducted by its fighters near Beit Lahia in the northern part of the Gaza Strip, in broad daylight. Needless to say, such an exercise would not have been conducted without approval from Hamas. See Gaza-Based Jaysh Al-Islam Threatens Israel Over Annexation Plan In New Video, July 6, 2020.

[18] Facebook.com, June 17, 2020.

[19] Telegram, December 27, 2020.

[20] Telegram, January 1, 2021.

[21] Facebook.com, January 2, 2021.

 

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