Languages
Page last updated at 17:30 GMT, Saturday, 15 August 2009 18:30 UK

Hamas crackdown on Gaza challengers

Hamas - the group which controls Gaza - has clashed with a radical Islamist group, launching a raid on a mosque in which its spiritual leader died. The BBC's Jo Floto in Jerusalem explains what lies behind Hamas's actions.

Abdel-Latif Moussa surrounded by fighters at the mosque in Rafah, 14 August 2009
Abdel-Latif Moussa, Jund Ansar Allah's spiritual leader, died in a Hamas raid

There were reports coming from Gaza this week that Hamas was losing patience with the Jund Ansar Allah - or Soldiers of the Followers of God.

An unsuccessful attempt was apparently made to detain the military commander of the group, a man going by the nickname of Abu Adbullah al-Muhajir.

Hamas security men approached him as he was leaving a mosque in Rafah. According to a source close to Hamas, Muhajir and his bodyguards threatened to detonate explosive belts they were wearing, and escaped.

The group let it be known that this Friday its spiritual leader, Abdul Latif Moussa, would declare an "Islamic emirate".

Hamas told the group to cancel the prayers, something it refused to do. Attempts at negotiation failed and Hamas decided to end the rise of Jund Ansar Allah.

Militants on horseback

The group came to prominence in June, when Jund Ansar Allah claimed responsibility for an attack on Nahal Oz, one of the crossing points from Gaza into Israel.

It was the most serious attack on an Israeli military position since the end of the Gaza offensive in January. The group used weapons, vehicles with explosives, and unusually, militants on horseback.

JUND ANSAR ALLAH
Name means Soldiers of the Followers of God
Member of Salafist movement, advocating return to the type of Islam practised at the time of the Prophet Muhammad
Wants to establish Islamic emirate throughout Middle East
Calls for strict enforcement of Sharia law, says Hamas is too liberal
Several hundred sympathisers in southern Gaza

The mounted attack was a failure. The Israeli army responded with machine guns, tanks and attack helicopters.

The material posted by the group on the internet is certainly inspired by al-Qaeda. It shares much of the iconography, language, music and discourse of other Jihadi groups.

In a recent declaration purportedly issued by the Jund Ansar Allah, Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman Zawahiri, are mentioned by name.

The group maintains that a return to a purer form of Islam is needed and that Sharia law must be implemented, and rejects democracy as un-Islamic.

But although it is easy to draw the ideological and linguistic connection, it is much harder to establish whether the group receives direction, money or resources from elsewhere.

Given that Gaza remains largely closed off from the rest of the world, that would be difficult - although not impossible.

The smuggling of weapons into Gaza is almost entirely controlled by Hamas. The fact that the group appears to have been relatively well-armed would point to at least some of its members being former militants from other groups, including Hamas.

In terms of numbers, one source estimates about 300 men, based in Khan Younis and Rafah, at the southern end of the Gaza Strip, but it is difficult to know for sure.

Uncompromising message

The Jund Ansar Islam is one of a handful of radical al-Qaeda-inspired groups to have appeared in the Gaza Strip in recent years.

Map of Gaza

The most prominent of these until now was Jaish al-Islam, who participated in the raid which captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in 2006 and claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of BBC's Gaza correspondent Alan Johnston in 2007.

The groups may have been used as proxies by other militant groups or powerful clans, but all have managed to attract young Gazans with a more radical interpretation of Islam, and with an uncompromising message of how to fight Israel and its "Crusader" allies.

For those young men who have become increasingly radicalised in Gaza, the established parties and militant groups are seen to have failed.

Since Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip two years ago, these groups have been seen as a challenge to its authority, and Hamas has stamped on them hard.

But dealing with them has presented Hamas with a real problem. Hamas's full title is the Islamic Resistance Movement, and it faces opposition from within its own membership and support base if it cracks down too hard on groups for either engaging in acts of resistance against Israel or activities presented as Islamic.

This week Hamas decided that it had had enough.



Print Sponsor



FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

BBC iD

Sign in

BBC navigation

Copyright © 2017 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific