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Hamas demonstration in Gaza Strip

JERUSALEM – A Palestinian Authority investigation last week has accused one of its own top leaders of funneling money to al-Qaida-linked groups in the Gaza Strip.

WND first reported in 2008, quoting informed Mideast security officials, that Mahmoud Dahlan, had been providing financial support to al-Qaida allies in the Gaza Strip, including some of the most radical Islamist organizations in the territory.

Dahlan, a leader in PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party, coordinates security closely with the U.S. His security agencies have been the direct recipient of over $300 million in U.S. financial aid and scores of U.S. weapons transfers for over a decade.

Also, the U.S. has provided training for Dahlan’s forces since the early 1990s.

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Fatah is considered moderate by U.S. and Israeli policy. Dahlan had been backing the al-Qaida allies in a bid to destabilize the rival Hamas’ leadership in Gaza, the informed Mideast security sources told WND in 2008.

Now, as part of a Fatah investigation, Dahlan last week was directly accused by the PA of funneling millions of dollars in aid and weapons to the Gazan Islamist organizations, including al-Qaida ideologues.

Dahlan was formally expelled from Fatah on June 11, the culmination of Abbas’ massive crackdown on the Fatah strongman, which began in December amid reports Dahlan was contemplating challenging Abbas for his PA leadership role.

Dahlan was also accused of rampant financial corruption and of raising his own militia that answers to him.

Security forces directed by Abbas in December closed down Dahlan’s businesses in the West Bank, including his television and radio studios. They confiscated his property, including a $2 million Ramallah mansion, as well as bank accounts in the West Bank and abroad. Dahlan has been living in de facto exile in Jordan ever since.

Dahlan’s alleged funding of al-Qaida groups in Gaza is significant.

In April, WND obtained an internal report prepared by the Egyptian government, with input from Hamas, that showed an unexpected rise in al-Qaida abilities in Gaza.

The report put the number of al-Qaida terrorists in Gaza at between 2,600 and 3,000 armed men. Previous estimates, both from within Hamas and from Israel, put the number of armed al-Qaida men in Gaza in the hundreds.

According to the Egyptian report, there is no specific information that the al-Qaida group is planning imminent large-scale attacks against Israel. Instead, the report claims, the armed Islamists are focused on building their bases in the Gaza Strip and connecting the bases to the neighboring Egyptian Sinai Peninsula.

The al-Qaida group is largely made up of two organizations that merged together – Jihadiya Salafiya (the Jihad of Ancestors) and Jaish al-Islam (Army of Islam).

The groups are suspected in the kidnapping and murder of Vittorio Arrigoni, an Italian activist in Gaza who was found hanged in April, hours after he was nabbed by the Islamist group.

While both Hamas and al-Qaida are offshoots of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, the groups often clash over a difference in tactics.

In August 2008, at around the time of the first accusations against Dahlan, Jihadiya Salafiya announced it established an armed wing, which it called the Damascus Soldiers, brandishing weapons in a public display in Gaza while openly identifying with al-Qaida ideologically.

At the time, the al-Qaida group evidenced a major infusion of weapons while it was openly challenging Hamas, according to Palestinian security sources in Gaza.

Unlike other radical Islamic organizations such as Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, which have demonstrated pragmatism in some aspects of political life while still holding an Islamist worldview, the new al-Qaida organization believes in a strict interpretation of the Quran and that only the Quran can dictate how to act.

The Islamist group believes jihad is the primary way to spread Islam around the world, including jihad against secular Muslim states.

Hamas has worked with the al-Qaida-allied groups in Gaza. It took credit along with Jaish al-Islam for the kidnapping in June 2006 of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

But Jihadiya Salifiya and Jaish al-Islam have been regularly publishing pamphlets labeling Hamas as “non-Muslim” since the terror group ran in 2006 democratic elections, which the Islamist organizations see as an expression of Western values.

Also, for the past two years, al-Qaida leaders themselves have released audio tapes blasting Hamas for participating in elections and in the democratic process.

Hamas several times has engaged in heavy fire clashes with the Islamist organizations in Gaza.

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