On Sept. 17, jihadist forums announced the death of Mohammed Za’anin (Abu Anas). Originally from Gaza, Za’anin was said to have died in a “martyrdom operation” in Syria, where he fought for the al Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
Users on jihadist forums alleged that Za’anin had previously been arrested by Hamas forces in the Gaza Strip on a number of occasions. Today, jihadist forums published a photo of a banner noting Za’anin’s death at the house of mourning established in the northern Gaza city of Beit Hanoun.
The announcement of Za’anin’s death in Syria came about two weeks after the Ibn Tamiyyah Media Center (ITMC) released video of a recent Salafi jihadist demonstration in Gaza that denounced Syria’s Bashar al Assad as well as Egypt’s Abdel Fattah el Sisi. During the demonstration, Sheikh Ahmad Oweida declared, “Let us travel in the paths of our jihad …. Let us die so that we obtain martyrdom, for death on the path of guidance is birth.”
Za’anin is not the first Palestinian from Gaza to have been killed fighting with jihadist groups in Syria. In July 2012, a Palestinian fighter from Jaish al Islam (Army of Islam) was killed during fighting in Aleppo.
Similarly, in mid-March this year, the ITMC, a jihadist media unit tied to the Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem, released a video about another fighter in Syria, Muhammad Ahmed Qanitah. Qanitah, who had previously trained fighters in Hamas’ Izz ad Din al Qassam Brigades, was said to have been killed in a rocket attack in December while fighting for the Al Nusrah Front during the siege of the airport in Aleppo.
More recently, in late August the ITMC released a video praising Fahd Nizar al Habbash, a former Hamas policeman who died fighting alongside jihadists in Syria. 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.
A number of 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.
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 Brigade 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 Brigade, or Emigrants’ Brigade, is a unit made up of foreign jihadists who fight in Syria, and is closely allied with the al Qaeda-affiliated Al Nusrah Front.