Salafists claiming ties to Islamic State took responsibility for launching mortars at a Hamas military base in Gaza on Friday. There were no reports of injuries or damage to the Qassam Brigades’ facility near Khan Yunis, but the attack comes amid increasing tensions between Hamas and other radical jihadists.
The mortar launching may be in response to Hamas’s demolition of a mosque near Deir al-Balah frequently visited by Salafi fighters. Hamas security forces have also arrested 30 radical Salafists recently including Imam Adnan Khader Maya. According to Israeli media, the imam had been making speeches in support of IS and called for the overthrow of Gaza’s rulers. Salafists allege their supporters have been tortured at the hands of Hamas.
A screenshot from a video posted to YouTube purportedly showing Salafists in Gaza offering support to the Islamic State on February 11, 2014.
A group calling itself the Supporters of ISIS in Jerusalem released a statement on May 4th demanding Hamas release all Salafist prisoners within 72 hours. The organization threatened to “act against chosen targets.” However, it is unclear who exactly the group represents and if the ultimatum was connected to a bombing outside the Hamas security headquarters earlier the same day. At other times, Salafists have launched rockets at Israel, knowing the Jewish State will retaliate against the Hamas government that controls the enclave.
The political rivalry between the two factions has been evident in Gaza for years, with Hamas focusing on a much more nationalist Palestinian-Islamic narrative while Salafist groups prefer to implement sharia law and expand an Islamic caliphate. While the Salafists have yet to pose a serious threat to Hamas’s rule in Gaza, they do disrupt the rule of law in the enclave.
Ultimately, it remains to be seen if the Salafists’ pledge of allegiance to IS last year could affect the power struggle. IS sympathizers have gained tangible support from fighters well beyond Syria and Iraq, using flashy media campaigns, beheadings, and bombings to recruit disaffected Muslims throughout the Middle East.