Ansar Jerusalem (Ansar Bayt al Maqdis), a Sinai-based Salafi jihadist group, yesterday announced that four of its fighters were killed in an apparent Israeli drone strike near Rafah. In a statement posted to jihadist forums that was translated by the SITE Intelligence Group, the group said that its fighters were hit by an “unmanned Zionist drone” as they were preparing to fire rockets toward Israel.
According to Ansar Jerusalem, four members of a five-man cell were killed in the strike, which a number of unidentified Egyptian officials have said was carried out by Israel. “Our heroes rose to the rank of martyrs while fulfilling their jihadi duty against the Jews with a rocket launch operation against Jewish settlements,” the statement said.
The four slain jihadists were members of tribes in the Sinai. The communiqué identified them as Hussein Ibrahim Salem al Tihi, from the Tiyaaha tribe; and Yusri Muhaareb al Saraarkah, Ibrahim Khalaf al Munei’I, and Muhammad Hussein al Munei’i, all from the Sawaarkah tribe.
According to Ansar Jerusalem, the four jihadists “had waited for the Jews at every turn and had made them taste the taste of fear and terror before they tasted wounds and blood.” The surviving member of the cell was not named, but he was identified as the cell’s “commander.”
The statement further denounced “the appearance of the cooperation and collusion of the Egyptian army with the Jews.” Prior to the strike, the statement claimed, Egyptian helicopters were seen above but withdrew “before the Zionist unmanned drone appeared to bomb the mujahideen with its bombs.”
It asked, “So, to which side does this army belong and for whom does it work?” The statement went on to charge that the Egyptian army “no longer defends the borders of the country and fights its enemies; instead, the army’s mission has become to protect the borders of the Jews and achieve American and Zionist interests.”
Ansar Jerusalem’s statement concluded with a warning “for the Jews.” “[W]e will have our
revenge even if it comes after a while. So wait, for we are waiting, too,” the communiqué threatened.In addition to the statement from Ansar Jerusalem, the Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem (MSC) released a statement today on the incident. The MSC statement, which was released through its media arm, the Ibn Taymiyyah Media Center, said the group was mourning with “deep sadness” the loss of the four Ansar Jerusalem fighters.
In addition, the statement said that an Israeli drone was responsible for the strike that killed the jihadists on Aug. 9. Like Ansar Jerusalem, which accused the Egyptian army of collaborating with Israel in the strike, the MSC in Jerusalem charged that the strike would not have occurred without “direct” coordination between Egypt and Israel.
An extensive funeral procession for the slain jihadists was held today in the Sinai. According to reports, during the funeral, which was attended by hundreds, those in attendance called for the end of the military’s rule and chanted “Khaybar, Khaybar, oh Jews! The army of Muhammad will return!” Additionally, the Associated Press noted that “it is believed that many who were present are wanted by police for carrying out near daily attacks on security forces in Sinai.”
Some of the slain jihadists were wrapped in al Qaeda flags, while some of the vehicles in the procession appeared to have the black flags attached as well.
The Israel Defense Forces have not officially responded to the reports, but an Israeli official last night reportedly confirmed that Israel was responsible, in comments to ABC News. The official position of the Egyptian army as of last night was that authorities were investigating an incident near Rafah, but that reports of Israeli involvement were false.
Adding to the mystery of the incident, Egypt’s state news agency now alleges that Egyptian helicopters carried out the strike, according to Reuters.
Yesterday’s strike came just a day after Israeli authorities closed the airport in the southern Israeli city of Eilat for a few hours due to a security assessment. Egyptian officials said yesterday that a warning from them regarding plots by jihadists in the Sinai had been shared with Israeli officials and led to the airport closure.
Israeli authorities have previously expressed concern that jihadists may try to target planes landing and taking off from the airport.
While it is not clear where the jihadists from Ansar Jerusalem intended to strike in Israel, a reasonable assumption can be made that Eilat was the likely target. The city has increasingly come under fire during the past two years from Sinai-based jihadists.
On Nov. 20, 2012, Ansar Jerusalem claimed to have fired rockets at Eilat, according to a statement that was obtained and translated by SITE. The same group also took responsibility for a rocket attack on Eilat in mid-August 2012. More recently, in early July, Ansar Jerusalem issued a statement claiming responsibility for the firing of two rockets toward Eilat. Prior to that, in April, the Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem (MSC) claimed responsibility for rocket attacks on Eilat.
Ansar Jerusalem is thought to be behind most of the recent attacks originating from the Sinai, according to Israeli intelligence. The group, which is said to recruit within Egypt and abroad, has claimed credit for a number of attacks against Israel over the past year, including the attack on Sept. 21.
The deadliest attack was the Aug. 18, 2011 assault on a bus traveling near the border with Egypt in Eilat, which resulted in the deaths of eight Israelis and at least seven terrorists. Three Egyptian security personnel were also accidentally killed in the crossfire. In addition, Ansar Jerusalem has taken credit for a number of attacks against the Arish-Ashkelon natural gas pipeline as well as a number of rocket attacks against Israel.
On Oct. 15, the group threatened to attack Israel for the targeted killing of Abu al Walid al Maqdisi, the former emir of the Tawhid and Jihad Group in Jerusalem, and Ashraf al Sabah, the former emir of Ansar al Sunnah. The two men were said to be leaders of the Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem.
On Jan. 11, a video released by Ansar Jerusalem stated: “Here in Egypt, the fortress of the Ummah, the light of victory has begun to shine, and the light of dawn has appeared in the horizon. The Ummah has begun preparing for the moment to attack the occupying entity and get rid of its evil.”
In March, the group issued a statement during President Obama’s visit to Israel, which it called a “cancerous tumor.” The jihadist group said that the visit’s timing “has important implications” and accused “America and the Crusader West” of intervening in the so-called Arab Spring “to change the natural direction of these blessed revolutions, and prevent[ing] the Muslim peoples from achieving their true freedom and implementing their Islamic Shariah.”
Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem
The Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem (MSC) is 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. Sheikh Anas Abdul Rahman, one of the group’s leaders, has said that the group aims to “fight the Jews for the return of Islam’s rule, not only in Palestine, but throughout the world.”
The MSC has taken responsibility for a number of rocket attacks against Israel, as well as the June 18, 2012 attack that killed one Israeli civilian. The group said the attack was “a gift to our brothers in Qaedat al Jihad and Sheikh Zawahiri” and retaliation for the death of Osama bin Laden. In early February 2013, the MSC released a martyrdom video branding one of the terrorists killed in the June 2012 attack as an al Qaeda “martyr.”
On Oct. 22, 2012, the MSC released a 32-minute-long video detailing some of its rocket attacks against Israel and threatening to “fight you [Israel] as long as we hold…weapons in our hands.” In November 2012, the group carried out joint rocket attacks with the Army of Islam. Following the institution of a ceasefire that ended Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense, the MSC said that they were not truly a party to the ceasefire.
Over the past two years, the Israeli Air Force has targeted a number of MSC members. On Oct. 7, 2012, the IDF targeted Tala’at Halil Muhammad Jarbi, a “global jihad operative,” and Abdullah Muhammad Hassan Maqawai, a member of the MSC. Maqawai, likely a former member of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, died of his wounds. On Oct. 13, 2012, Israel killed Abu al Walid al Maqdisi, the former emir of the Tawhid and Jihad Group in Jerusalem, and Ashraf al Sabah, the former emir of Ansar al Sunnah, in an airstrike. The two men were said to be leaders of the MSC. Numerous jihadist groups and media units as well as al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri issued statements following the death of the two jihadists.
More recently, in April this year, the IAF targeted and killed Hithem Ziad Ibrahim Masshal, a well-known jihadist in the Gaza Strip, who was said to be a member of the MSC. On May 7, Masshal was eulogized by a senior member of the MSC who claimed that he never visited Masshal “without finding his room full with materials for manufacturing and preparing rockets, and the materials of jihad.” On Aug. 7, 2013, the MSC released a video to jihadist forums praising Masshal for having “always rolled up his sleeves and used up his time in training the mujahideen to fight and shoot in the Cause of Allah.”
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.
Since its formation, the group has released a couple of eulogies for slain al Qaeda leaders. For example, in September 2012 the group released a eulogy to jihadist forums for Abu Yahya al Libi, a longtime al Qaeda leader from Libya, who was killed in a US drone strike in Mir Ali in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan on June 4, 2012. More recently, in mid-July, the group released a statement of condolence to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) after it confirmed the death of its deputy leader, Said al Shihri (a.k.a. Abu Sufyan al-Azdi).