JERUSALEM – Jailed Hamas members disillusioned with the Palestinian terror group because it’s not radical enough for them renounced their Hamas membership and attempted to set up an al-Qaida cell to direct attacks against the Jewish state, Israeli prison officials said yesterday.

The revelation is the latest evidence the global terror network has established itself in the Palestinian territories, with Israeli security officials telling WND al-Qaida agents infiltrated the Gaza Strip after Israel’s military withdrawal from the area in September.

“The terrorists in jail were defying Hamas, which they said wasn’t radical enough. … They wanted to create their own cell of al-Qaida that would be the network’s arm in Israeli prison to direct attacks,” said a prison official.

Israeli security officials said nine jailed Hamas terrorists “with blood on their hands,” including two militants trained in Afghanistan and Pakistan, tried to set up the al-Qaida cell last month. Officials said the cell planned to direct attacks on behalf of al-Qaida by sending messages to terrorists outside the Israeli prison.

There have been many cases the past few years of Palestinian terrorists planning or directing attacks from within Israeli jails.

Prison officials said they began investigating after they intercepted communications between some of the nine prisoners, messages that contained al-Qaida ideology and operational instructions specific to the global jihad group.

Said a prison official, “The jailed terrorists renounced their membership in Hamas. They didn’t think Hamas was carrying out enough attacks. … They thought Hamas was too focused on trying to join upcoming Palestinian legislative elections. So they joined with al-Qaida.”

A source close to Hamas told WND the reports of the group’s jailed members joining al-Qaida “are all lies. Israel is trying to discredit the Palestinians.”

Israeli security officials have been insisting the past few weeks al-Qaida members have set up shop in Gaza.

“Al-Qaida operatives took advantage of the opened Rafah border [with Egypt] and entered Gaza,” said Maj. Gen. Aharon Zeevi Farkash, chief of intelligence for the Israeli Defense Forces.

Farkash added al-Qaida’s interest in attacking Israel recently has increased.

“Militants linked to Hezbollah, al-Qaida and other international terror groups are now very likely in Gaza,” a senior security official told WND. “The groups had set up bases in the Sinai that are still functioning, and we have information indicating members managed to get inside Gaza. These are people with advanced knowledge in specific kinds of deadly attacks and explosions.”

Following Israel’s troop withdrawal Sept. 12, Gaza’s border with Egypt was wide open, with thousands of Palestinians – including known terrorists – passing freely from one side to the other for a period of at least six days.

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.

Palestinian officials admitted to reporters terror groups were able to smuggle tons of weapons into Gaza, including explosives, ammunition and rocket-propelled grenades that had long been stockpiled in Sinai, but denied al-Qaida was present.

“These reports are baseless,” chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told WND. “Egypt did a good job in cracking down on cells in their country, and they wouldn’t have allowed any al-Qaida people to get into Gaza.”

An aide to Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei told WND on condition of anonymity, “It would certainly be against our interests to say al-Qaida was in our territory.”

Hamas chief Mahmoud al-Zohar went so far as to accuse Israel of sending fake al-Qaida agents into Gaza so it can claim the global jihad group was liaising with Palestinian organizations.

“All these talks about the presence of al-Qaida is Israeli talks and propaganda,” said al-Zahar in an exclusive WND interview.

“We know that Israel tried through its agents to have contacts with marginal activists in the Palestinian resistance. The agents represented themselves as al-Qaida members and tried to tempt these people with money and weapons. This is part of the Israeli effort to represent things even though they are not that way in order to say that al-Qaida exists in the Gaza Strip,” al-Zahar said.

But the worry al-Qaida agents made it to Gaza is especially poignant, Israeli security officials told WND, because Egypt has had difficulty eliminating al-Qaida cells in the Sinai desert suspected of involvement in recent attacks, including the bombings in Sharm el Sheikh in July and Taba last year, which together killed more than 100 people.

Yaacov Amidror, former chief of research for Israeli military intelligence, told WND, “We don’t know the exact status of al-Qaida in the Sinai. They have surprised Egypt with attacks, and cells there are very likely still in tact.”

Previous stories:

Al-Qaida wants to ‘spread the love’ in Gaza

Israeli intelligence chief: Al-Qaida in Gaza

Israel: Al-Qaida likely in Gaza

Israel fears al-Qaida infiltration

Zarqawi setting up bases in Jordan, Gaza Strip?

Al-Qaida’s next base Jewish homes?

In Israel’s vacuum, al-Qaida moves in to Gaza

PA official: There is no Egypt-Gaza border

Evidence: Al-Qaida rocket attack in Gaza false

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