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New threat from Sinai's united jihadists

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WASHINGTON – The Gaza Strip under the control of Egypt has seen an increase in violence and terrorist attacks since the fall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. It also has seen an uptick in attacks against the pipeline that carries natural gas to Israel and Jordan, according to report from Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.

Now, new jihadist groups which have formed since then appear to have united under one umbrella group. Many of these are Gaza Salafi jihadists who have joined with radical elements in Sinai and appear to be growing, according to informed regional sources.

Since 2007 when Hamas came to power in Gaza, jihadist groups have emerged there. Often, they were not under Hamas control but were united in launching attacks against Israel and expanding their ties to groups in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.

Until now, jihadists groups in Gaza didn’t work under one leader. These groups have included Jaljalt, Jaysh al-Islam, Jund Ansar Allah, al-Tawhid w’al-Jihad and Jaysh al-Ummah. They were formed by people who had left Hamas and the affiliated Qassam Brigades following Hamas’ turn to politics and away from armed resistance.

Many of the jihadist groups now have formed under the umbrella Majlis al-Shura al-Mujahideen fi Aknaf Bayt al-Maqdis, or the Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem.

The concept of this unification was inspired by a Jordanian jihadist ideologue, Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi. He had written an article in April 2009 calling on jihadists in Gaza to unite under one jihadist group and create one Shura council to push their Salafi-Jihadist movement in Palestine.

Murad Batal al-Shishani of the Jamestown Foundation said that such unification has “strategic purposes.” He said that pressure had been imposed by Israel and Hamas to force Gaza’s jihadists to move into the Sinai to give themselves “more room to operate against Israel.”

Instead of operating on a 40-kilometer, or 25-mile, border with Israel in the Gaza Strip, the jihadists can operate on a 250-kilometer, or 155-mile, border between Egypt’s Sinai and Israel, with some 61,000 square kilometers to move around freely.

Ever since Israeli forces moved out of the Sinai following the signing of the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel in 1979, the Sinai has become a security weak point under Egyptian jurisdiction. But the security situation became even worse with Mubarak’s ouster.

There has been a serious uptick in kidnapping of tourists and foreign workers, bombings of the natural gas pipelines into Israel and Jordan on more than a dozen of occasions and the firing of rockets into Israel. Even al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri has praised the attacks on the pipeline.

One of the largest jihadist groups in the Sinai, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, similarly has come under the Mujahideen Shura Council umbrella and appears to be under the control of the Salafists in Gaza.

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