On Saturday, the Israeli Air Force killed Abu al Walid al Maqdisi (a.k.a. Hisham Saidani), the former emir of the Tawhid and Jihad Group in Jerusalem, and Ashraf al Sabah, the former head of Ansar al Sunnah. On Sunday, Israel killed one militant from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
The first statement from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) on Saturday’s incident said that the targets of the strike were members Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem (MSC).
As previously noted at The Long War Journal, the description of al Maqdisi as both emir of Tawhid and Jihad and a member of the Mujahideen Shura Council may not be contradictory, but may actually provide evidence of the consolidation of the smaller Salafi-Jihadist groups into the Mujahideen Shura Council.
On Sunday, confirmation of this theory came from the IDF as well as Salafi sources. According to a statement released by the IDF on Sunday, al Maqdisi was a founder of the MSC. “Since his release [in August] and in recent days, Saidani had been planning a complex attack to be carried out along the Sinai border, a collaboration between Gaza-based militants and Salafi operatives in Sinai,” the statement said.
“The men had recently merged their groups to form the umbrella Majles Shoura Al-Mujahideen…the de facto heads of the diffuse Gaza jihadi network,” Reuters reported based on statements from two Salafi sources.
On Sunday, the funerals for the two “most senior al Qaeda affiliates” in the Gaza Strip took place. According to Reuters, “about 500 mourners attended Saedni’s and Sabah’s funerals on Sunday. Some wore the smocks typical of the al Qaeda bastions in Pakistan and Afghanistan but relatively uncommon among Palestinians.”
During Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the “Global Jihad has stepped up its efforts to attack us and we will continue to operate against it, aggressively and in strength, both in response and in preventive counter-terrorism.”
Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem
The MSC appears to be a consolidation of a number of Salafi-Jihadist groups operating in the Gaza Strip including, but not limited to: Tawhid and Jihad Group in Jerusalem, and Ansar al Sunnah. It has taken responsibility for a number of rocket attacks against Israel as well as the June 18, 2011 attack that killed one Israeli civilian.
In July, the group released a 38-minute-long video in which it said that the June attack was “a gift to our brothers in Qaedat al Jihad and Sheikh Zawahiri” and retaliation for the death of Osama bin Laden.
The IDF has recently increased its targeting of MSC members. On Oct. 7, the IDF killed Tala’at Halil Muhammad Jarbi, a “global jihad operative,” and Abdullah Muhammad Hassan Maqawai, a member of the MSC. Maqawai was likely a former member of Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
Tawhid and Jihad Group in Jerusalem
The Tawhid and Jihad Group in Jerusalem announced its formation in a statement released on jihadist forums in August 2009. In the same announcement, the Tawhid and Jihad Group in Jerusalem denounced a raid by Hamas against a Jund Ansar Allah mosque that killed Latif Moussa. Hamas killed Moussa and several followers after he declared an Islamic emirate in Gaza and challenged Hamas’s authority. Al Maqdisi had studied under Moussa.
The Tawhid and Jihad Group in Jerusalem has claimed credit for numerous attacks against Israeli security forces and civilians. In multiple statements released on jihadist forums, the terror group has claimed to have launched rocket and mortar attacks into Israel, as well as IED attacks against Israeli soldiers.
Tawhid and Jihad has also expressed its affinity with al Qaeda’s top leaders. In June 2010, the group released a statement eulogizing Mustafa Abu Yazid, one al Qaeda’s top leaders who was killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan. Tawhid and Jihad said Yazid’s death was the latest among “a generation” of martyred al Qaeda leaders such as “Abu Musab al Zarqawi, Abu Omar al Baghdadi, Abu Hamza al Muhajir, Abu al Laith al Libi, and Yusuf al Ayiri, who will turn the life of their enemy into unbearable hell and send them after that to eternal perdition where the Lord of the Worlds is the judge,” according to a translation of the statement by the SITE Intelligence Group.
In addition, the terror group has expressed solidarity with the Islamic Caucasus Emirates, al Qaeda’s affiliate in southern Russia, and eulogized Emir Sayfullah, who was the terror group’s top judge was well as its leader in Dagestan before he was killed in August 2011.
Ansar al Sunnah
Ansar al Sunnah is one of a cluster of Salafi-Jihadist groups operating in the Gaza Strip. It has taken responsibility for several rocket attacks against Israel, including a rocket attack in March 2010 that killed a Thai worker in Israel. Following the March 2010 attack, Haaretz reported that the group was “apparently linked to Jund Ansar Allah,” another jihadist group operating in Gaza.
Upon the arrest of Abu al Walid al Maqdisi by Hamas in March 2011, Ansar al Sunnah issued a number of statements condemning the act. The group also praised the Aug. 18, 2011 attack in southern Israel that killed eight Israelis.