The officials believe it is only a matter of time before ISIS claims responsibility for attacks in Gaza. They further point to debates on ISIS-affiliated Internet forums discussing the timing of declaring the Gaza Strip as territory that is part of a larger Islamic caliphate that would also encompass the neighboring Sinai Peninsula in Egypt.
In a major escalation, Islamist Salafists on Monday planted a bomb on Hamas’s security headquarters in Gaza City, damaging a peripheral wall of the central structure.
Hours earlier, Gazan Salafists posted an online message threatening to “act against chosen targets” if Hamas did not release Islamist prisoners within 72 hours.
The Salafists were particularly incensed about an arrest last month of an Islamic leader said to support ISIS ideology.
Last month, WND was first to report Hamas had 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, according to Middle Eastern security officials.
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.”
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.
Last month, 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 in March, 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.