With Israel slated to withdraw its Jewish communities from the Gaza Strip this month, and analysts warning Hamas may gain control of the area, there have been growing indications the Palestinian terror group’s ideological “friend” al-Qaida may be invited to use Gaza as the next base from which to stage its global jihad.

As WND reported, a group claiming to be “Al-Qaida-Palestine, Jihad Brigades in the Border Land,” announced last week the establishment of a cell in the Gaza Strip. The group said it carried out a recent attack using a new kind of rocket – the Sinjal – against Neve Dekalim, the largest community in Gaza’s Gush Katif slate of Jewish neighborhoods.

Ami Shaked, security coordinator for Gaza’s Gush Katif slate of Jewish communities, told WND Sinjal rockets were not used in the attack in question. Senior military sources could not confirm the presence of al-Qaida in Gaza. They said it is not the global network’s “style” to carry out small-scale rocket and mortar attacks, but said Palestinian groups with ties to Al-Qaida may be active in the area.

But if al-Qaida is not currently in Gaza, analysts are warning Israel’s withdrawal next week from the area will create conditions that could make the Gaza Strip a safe haven for the terror network.

Many are urging political decision makers take notice of the established ties between Hamas and al-Qaida.

Hamas and al-Qaida share ideological roots

Hamas is known to be friendly with al-Qaida.

In 2004, Hamas distributed computer CDs in the West Bank and Gaza that expressed the organization’s identification with Chechen terrorists and with other “holy wars” in the Balkans, Kashmir, and Afghanistan. Pictured together on the CDs, some of which are in the IDF’s archive, are Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, two Chechen leaders, and Osama bin Laden.

Al-Qaida and Hamas are often funded by the same countries and organizations. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, “Hamas [leaders] often use the very same methods and even the same institutions [as al-Qaida] to raise and move their money.”

Both al-Qaida and Hamas legitimize the use of suicide bombings based on the same religious authorities: Egyptian cleric Qardhawi and Saidi sheikhs Salman al-Auda, Safar al-Hawali, Hamud bin Uqla al-Shuaibi, and Sulaiman al-Ulwan. All five clerics appear on Hamas official website.

Reuven Erlich, director of the Terrorism and Information Center at Israel’s Center for Special Studies, emphasized the early connections between Hamas and al-Qaida.

The main link, Erlich said, can be stressed through Palestinian cleric Dr. Abdullah Azzam, who was al-Qaida’s ideologue and until Azzam’s death, Osama bin Laden’s spiritual mentor.

“We found Azzam’s picture on Hamas posters from Gaza and a lot of Hamas’ material,” said Erlich.

Azzam in background in Hamas poster (courtesy: Center for Special Studies)

Azzam, from the north Samarian village of Silat al-Harithiya, was an early member of the Muslim Brotherhood. He met bin Laden in the early ’80s and, according to many reports, became his main spiritual mentor. He wrote a book, “The Defense of Muslim Lands, the Most Important Personal Duty” stressing that land previously under Islamic control must be returned by way of jihad. The book, widely touted by Hamas, is among al-Qaida’s stated guidelines for its global jihad.

During Operation Defensive Shield in March 2002, Israel captured a large amount of Hamas material containing the images and doctrine of Azzam.

According to an analysis of the Hamas material by the Center for Special Studies: “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. … Dr. Azzam is a prominent source of inspiration for global jihad. By glorifying him and turning him into a role model, Hamas exceeds its Palestinian-national aspect and positions itself ideologically in the global jihad camp, although in fact at this time its terrorist-operational activities are focused only on Israel and the PA-administered territories.”

Al-Qaida attempts to infiltrate Gaza

Al-Qaida has several times claimed a presence in the Gaza Strip.

A group calling itself Jundallah or “Allah’s Brigade” claimed in May it set up shop in Gaza. The new terror group is said to consist mainly of former Hamas and Islamic Jihad members who believe Palestinian terror groups have become too moderate. Jundallah says it has close ties to al-Qaida in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran.

Palestinian Authority officials told reporters the establishment of Jundallah confirmed suspicions al-Qaida is attempting to gain a foothold in Gaza ahead of Israel’s withdrawal.

Also, a Palestinian with Canadian citizenship was arrested in 2003 on suspicion of having been sent by an international jihad group to Israel to carry out terror attacks.

In June 2000, the Shin Bet arrested Nabil Ukal, a Palestinian resident of the Gaza Strip, who was convicted of attempting to create an al-Qaida network in Gaza. Ukal reportedly admitted during interrogation to attending Islamic extremist training camps in Afghanistan, and was in contact with Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, whom the IDF assassinated in 2004.

Gaza soon ripe for al-Qaida base?

Yaacov Amidror, former chief of research for Israeli military intelligence, told WND, “It’s becoming clear Hamas will take over Gaza when Israel leaves. Today, one of the weaknesses of al-Qaida is its lack of a safe haven in the Middle East. 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 area in which the population and the terror groups in power, especially Hamas, share the same ideology as Al-Qaida – to rebuild the Islamic system, the Caliphate, around the world.”

Hamas recently dominated municipal elections in the Gaza Strip. Many say the group is poised to do well in upcoming Palestinian legislative elections.

Amidror said al-Qaida is not seen by Hamas as a threat to its dominance in Gaza.

“Al-Qaida isn’t seeking control of Gaza. Hamas emphasizes the war against Israel before the struggle against the rest of the West, the Christians and the non-Islamist world. Al-Qaida would use its Gaza base to fight against infidels around the world.”

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