A Palestinian from the Gaza Strip has reportedly died fighting for the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS) in Syria. Amer Abu Ghoula is said to have died on the evening of Nov. 13 during clashes with Hezbollah and the Syrian army near Aleppo.
Amer Abu Ghoula was originally from Nuseirat in central Gaza, according to Al Quds. The report also cited an anonymous source that claimed that Abu Ghoula had escaped from a Hamas prison and fled to Syria. Abu Ghoula had been sentenced to a a year in prison in September 2012 for harboring those tied to the kidnapping and murder of Italian activist Vittorio Arrigoni in April 2011, the report stated.
It is not entirely clear if Abu Ghoula ever spent time in a Hamas prison. According to the Independent, Abu Ghoula was sentenced in absentia. However, a February 2013 AFP report stated that he “was jailed for a year.”
The Tawhid and Jihad Group in Jerusalem, formerly headed by Abu al Walid al Maqdisi (a.k.a. Hisham Saidani), is largely believed to have been responsible for Arrigoni’s kidnapping. Following Arrigoni’s death, however, the group issued a statement and video denying any connection to the kidnapping. “Despite the fact that we in the Tawhid and Jihad Group didn’t have anything to do with the kidnapping operation, we confirmed that what happened is a natural result of the repressive policy that Hamas and its government [is] carrying out against the Salafis,” the group said, in a statement translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.
In 2012, the Salafi jihadist group merged with Ansar al Sunnah to form the Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem.
Abu Ghoula is at least the seventh Palestinian from Gaza to die fighting in Syria against the regime of Bashar al Assad. Nidal Khalid al ‘Ashi, a former fighter in Jaish al Islam (Army of Islam), was killed fighting in Aleppo in late July 2012. Muhammad Ahmad Qanitah, formerly a member of the Tawhid and Jihad Group in Jerusalem who had previously served with Hamas, was killed in Syria while fighting for the Al Nusrah Front, one of two official al Qaeda branches in Syria, in late December 2012.
Similarly, Sa’ad Harb Sha’lan, originally from Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip, was killed in mid-June 2013 fighting near Idlib. Fahd Nizar al Habbash, a former member of Hamas’ police force in Gaza, was killed fighting for the Al Nusrah Front in mid-July 2013. More recently, in September, jihadists reported the death of Mohammed Za’anin, who was said to have died in a “martyrdom operation” in Syria, where he fought for the ISIS, al Qaeda’s other official branch in Syria. And, in early November, Wasim al Aatl (a.k.a. Abu Mohammed al Filistini) was reported to have died in Syria while carrying out a “jihadist mission.”
On Sept. 28, the Ibn Taymiyyah Media Center (ITMC), a jihadist media unit tied to the Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem, released posters for five of these Palestinian jihadists killed in Syria.
Several press reports over the past year have indicated a rise in the number of Palestinians joining the fight against the Assad regime. Many of those traveling to Syria have been Salafi jihadists who joined the Al Nusrah Front. While it is unclear exactly how many Palestinians from Gaza have traveled to Syria to fight among jihadists, in late August the ITMC released a video praising Fahd Nizar al Habbash. In the video, a narrator boasted that “convoys of mujahideen” from Gaza have gone to Syria to fight and that some have died while there.
One Salafist in Gaza recently told Al Monitor that “Palestinian youths in Gaza are being contacted and urged to travel for jihad to Syria and join the legions of mujahedeen there who come from all corners of the globe.” Another Salafist leader in Gaza told AFP recently that roughly two dozen Gazan jihadists had reached Syria.
Salafi jihadists in the Gaza Strip have also expressed support for the fight in Syria and provided military tips in statements. For example, on Jan. 20, 2013, an audio speech from Abu Abdullah al Ghazi, a Jaish al Ummah (Army of the Nation) official, was released to jihadist forums. In the speech, which was obtained and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group, al Ghazi said that the Levant should be seen as an open “market of jihad.” In addition, he called on fighters to “[t]ake the initiative and rise to establish the Islamic State in the Levant and reestablish the rule of Allah over His land after you pluck out that criminal tyrant [Assad] and retaliate for the blood that was spelt and the honors that were violated.”
Nine days before al Ghazi’s audio speech was released, a video from Jaish al Ummah was released to jihadist forums. In the video, which was dedicated to fighters in Syria, the group showed “how to manufacture a 107mm rocket,” according to SITE. The video also “provided recommendations about substitute materials and quantities depending on the size of the rocket.”
In related developments, in June, jihadists in Syria called on Hamas members as well as members of other Palestinian factions in Gaza to join the Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem. And on May 20, a video featuring Abu Talha al Libi, the sharia official of the Muhajireen Army in the Levant, was released by the ITMC. In the video, titled “Fear Allah, O Hamas,” al Libi slammed Hamas’ campaign against Salafi jihadists in the Gaza Strip. The Muhajireen Army, or Emigrants’ Army, is a unit made up of foreign jihadists who fight in Syria. It is closely allied with the ISIS, and also fights alongside the Al Nusrah Front.