JERUSALEM – In its first acknowledged attack, a group claiming to work on behalf of al-Qaida in the Gaza Strip took responsibility yesterday for the assassination attempt on the chief of the Palestinian Authority’s intelligence service, who was seriously wounded when a bomb exploded inside his headquarters.
The group, calling itself al-Qaida in Palestine, threatened to assassinate PA President Mahmoud Abbas and other top Palestinian leaders.
Last week, an organization also speaking for al-Qaida announced it has set up shop in the Palestinian territories and soon will target Americans and “Zionists.”
The PA intelligence chief, Tarek Abu Rajab, was listed today in serious condition in a Tel Aviv hospital, where he was transferred after the bomb was set off in an elevator at his offices in Gaza City yesterday. One of Rajab’s bodyguards was killed and 10 others were wounded in the blast.
Al-Qaida in Palestine said in a statement Rajab was the intended target of the operation:
“We declare our full responsibility for this operation. Our warrior brothers managed to place a bomb in the special lift used by the apostate Tarek Abu Rajab but were hasty in detonating the device which should have been triggered once the lift door was closed.”
The group went on to threaten other “apostate” PA officials, including Abbas, former security chief Muhammad Dahlan and top Fatah leader Abu Ali Shaheen.
The statement came as PA security forces announced yesterday they thwarted an attempt to assassinate Fatah leader Rashid Abu Shabak, the overall commander of the PA security services. They said a large bomb was discovered next to Abu Shabak’s home in Gaza City, but it was safely detonated.
Some Fatah leaders, speaking on condition of anonymity, blamed Hamas for the attack against Rajab. Hamas and Fatah have been fighting on the streets of Gaza the past two weeks over control of Palestinian security forces.
The declaration of responsibility for this weekend’s attack was the latest sign al-Qaida has infiltrated the Gaza Strip and is seeking to carry out large-scale operations inside Israel and the Palestinian interests.
Al-Qaida attacks thwarted?
Last month, members of the Gaza-based Popular Resistance Committees terror group attempted to carry out a large-scale car bombing at the Karni Crossing, the main cargo passageway between the Gaza Strip and Israel. The attack was foiled at the last minute after Palestinian forces became suspicious and opened fire at an approaching vehicle.
The Karni attack was set to take place at the same time two suicide bombs exploded near a multinational peacekeeping force in the Sinai adjacent to Gaza. The Sinai attack was widely blamed on groups working for al-Qaida.
Immediately following the attacks, Palestinian security officials, including the chief of a PA intelligence agency, told WND the suicide bombing in the Sinai and the thwarted Karni attack were coordinated and were the handiwork of groups working on behalf of al-Qaida.
“Al-Qaida came just a few feet from attacking Israel for the first time (at Karni),” said the intelligence chief, speaking on condition his name be withheld.
Israel has refrained from connecting the attempted Karni attack to al-Qaida. It said the attack was directed by a senior Hamas leader.
In March, Israel released information it had arrested two West Bank Palestinians charged with membership in al-Qaida. The militants, arrested on their way to the West Bank from Jordan, were suspected of recruiting suicide bombers and seeking financing from Jordanian al-Qaida cells to carry out a large-scale al-Qaida attack inside Israel.
Signs of al-Qaida
After months of denying the jihad group was able to infiltrate Palestinian territories, Abbas in March announced there were signs al-Qaida had established itself in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.
“We have indications about a presence of al-Qaida in Gaza and the (West) Bank. This is intelligence information. We have not yet reached the point of arrests,” Abbas said.
“The last security report I received was three days ago,” Abbas told the London-based al-Hayat newspaper. “This is the first time that I’ve spoken about this subject. This is a very serious matter.”
Abbas’ statements followed a series of warnings by senior Israeli intelligence officials that al-Qaida operatives infiltrated Gaza while the Rafah Crossing, the main terminal at Gaza’s border with Egypt’s Sinai desert, was opened for several days immediately after Israel’s withdrawal from the area in August.
Egyptian officials attempted to close the border several times, but Hamas and other terror groups managed to reopen the crossing, once using a controlled explosion along the border fence and another time ramming a dump truck through the border wall.
Egypt has admitted to difficulty eliminating al-Qaida cells in Sinai suspected of involvement in recent terror attacks, including the bombings in Dahab last month, Sharm el Sheikh in July and Taba last year, which together killed more than 120 people.
In September, Maj. Gen. Aharon Zeevi Farkash, chief of intelligence for the Israeli Defense Forces, told reporters al-Qaida infiltrated Gaza and was interested in attacking Israel.
Security officials said they feared al-Qaida terrorists who made it to Gaza will try to cross into the West Bank’s Palestinian population centers, which border many of Israel’s major cities.
Yaacov Amidror, former chief of research for Israeli military intelligence, told WND al-Qaida may seek to use Gaza as a sanctuary to plan attacks throughout the Middle East.
“Today one of the weaknesses of al-Qaida is its lack of a safe haven in the Middle East,” Amidror said. “The new realities in Gaza will make it one of the most convenient places for al-Qaida to base their global operations. The Gaza Strip will become a paradise because it will be an area in which the population and the terror groups in power, especially Hamas, share the same ideology as al-Qaida.”
Al-Qaida, Hamas ideological partners?
Reuven Erlich, director of the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center at Israel’s Center for Special Studies, stressed the common ideological links between al-Qaida and Hamas, which officially took over the PA government last month.
The link, Erlich said, can be emphasized through Palestinian cleric Abdullah Azzam, who was al-Qaida’s ideologue and, until his death, Osama bin Laden’s spiritual mentor.
“We found Azzam’s picture on Hamas posters from Gaza and a lot of Hamas material,” Erlich told WND. “Azzam’s portrait in materials reveal that he is perceived by Hamas as one of the four ‘outstanding figures’ of the Islamic ‘struggle’ in Palestine and around the world.”
Al-Qaida leader in Palestine soon to be revealed?
Yesterday’s pamphlet was not the first to be distributed in Gaza claiming to speak for al-Qaida. As WND first reported, a pamphlet distributed in the territory last month announced an al-Qaida leader as important as bin Laden and the group’s Iraq leader, Abu Musab Zarqawi, will soon reveal himself in the West Bank and Gaza and orchestrate local and global jihad from the areas.
The pamphlet, signed by a group calling itself the Jaish al Jihad, or Army of Jihad, claimed to speak for al-Qaida. It warned all non-Muslims and foreign embassies to vacate the Palestinian areas within one month.
“Is there now among us a person like Saladin, like Sheik Osama bin Laden, like Abu Musab Zarqawi? The answer is yes. We have this man and he will appear with the help of Allah very soon on the land of Palestine,” said the pamphlet, which was intercepted by the Palestinian General Intelligence and obtained by WND after being circulated in southern Gaza.