WND, by Aaron Klein, April 16, 2015:
TEL AVIV – Internet forums and group chatter among ISIS supporters indicate the brutal jihadist organization is debating when to declare the Gaza Strip part of its expansive caliphate, WND has learned.
Informed Middle Eastern security officials said Hamas has been preparing a major crackdown on Salafist cells supportive of ISIS ideology, fearing the group could indeed make such a declaration of control over Gaza.
The officials further said Hamas has been trying to bribe Salafist ideologues away from ISIS by providing them with salaries while integrating them among the ranks of Hamas’ salaried security forces.
Asked by WND for comment on the report, Mushir al Masri, a member of Hamas’ parliament and a media spokesman for the group, denied ISIS was even present in the Gaza Strip.
“This is not the first time Israeli and Western media tried to pit us against ISIS. There is no truth to these claims, and ISIS is not in the Gaza Strip,” he said.
Masri further clarified that “anyone caught breaking the law will be dealt with just like all lawbreakers according to the criminal justice system in Gaza.”
However, just last week Hamas reportedly arrested a prominent ISIS-aligned preacher from Gaza after the terrorist group went on a rampage earlier in a Palestinian camp in Syria.
ISIS last month took control for a time of the Yarmouk camp in Syria, home to one of the largest Palestinian camps outside of Gaza. The group took responsibility for beheading several Palestinian men in the camp and reportedly raped some of the women there.
This week, in an apparent attempt to gain sympathy with the Gazan population, ISIS supporters reportedly gave away Israeli-made space heaters adorned with ISIS logos. ISIS supporters also have been giving other so-called charity to Gaza’s Palestinian population.
According to informed Middle Eastern security officials, Israel is so concerned about the prospect of ISIS rising in Gaza that the Jewish state has helped to step up the transport of civilian goods into the territory. Israel fears a shortage could provoke a discontented population to turn closer to ISIS, which has been trying to endear itself to Gazans with numerous Islamic charity initiatives.
Last July, WND reported an attempt by jihadist organizations in the Gaza Strip to unite under the common ISIS banner. Contacted by WND at the time, Abu Saqer, one of the leaders of Jihadiya Salafiya, which represents al-Qaida ideology in the Gaza Strip, confirmed the attempt to organize various jihad groups to fight Israel under the ISIS umbrella.
Sinai to Gaza
Any ISIS gains in Gaza would pose a major threat to both Israel and neighboring Egypt.
The moderate regime of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has been fighting an ISIS and Salafist insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula and beyond. The jihadists seek to connect the Sinai with the Gaza Strip to form one big territory.
ISIS allies took responsibility for a roadside bomb attack on an armored vehicle in Egypt’s northern Sinai that killed six Egyptian soldiers last Sunday.
Also over the weekend, a group formerly known as Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, now fighting under the ISIS banner, released a video that featured the graphic killing of an Egyptian soldier captured April 2 in the northern Sinai.
In December, WND reported Egypt arrested dozens of foreign jihadists in the Sinai Peninsula, stoking fears ISIS militants were seeking to open a new front.
In February, WND was first to report that thousands of foreign jihadists were attempting to infiltrate Egypt, with plans of a coming destabilization campaign akin to the insurgency in Syria, according to informed Middle Eastern security officials.
The officials warned at the time of a troubling development taking place among the al-Qaida-linked organizations already inside Egypt. They said there is information the militant groups are forming a de facto chain of command, with alarming coordination between the various jihadist factions embedded around the country.
The terrorist infrastructure is being set up beyond the Islamist stronghold of the Sinai Peninsula. The officials said al-Qaida-linked groups in Egypt have been forming divisions replete with leadership and assignments to specific territories, including in the Sinai, Suez regions, outside Cairo and along the delta.
Sisi has appealed to the Obama administration and international community for help in battling the insurgency.
In a Fox News interview last month, Sisi appealed for an increase in U.S. military aid.
“It is very important for the United States to understand that our need for the weapons and for the equipment is dire, especially at the time when the Egyptians feel they are fighting terrorism and they would like to feel the United States is standing by them in that fight against terrorism,” he said.