Gaza militants aspire to al-Qaida link, study says

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Palestinian militant groups are trying to link with al-Qaida, but Osama bin Laden’s terror network has so far snubbed Hamas and its offshoots for infighting and failure to prove their global jihadist intentions, a new study says.

Al-Qaida has granted formal ties with insurgent organizations in Yemen and North Africa but doesn’t yet appear to believe that Hamas and its splinter groups are sufficiently focused beyond Israel to the Western world, according to the study by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

The study, which was obtained by The Associated Press and is scheduled to be released next week, suggests al-Qaida may be waiting patiently for one of the Gaza-based terror groups to establish itself — perhaps by successfully attacking Western targets.

“Al-Qaida likely remains unconvinced of the ideological commitment of groups like Jaish al-Islam,” said Matthew Levitt, co-author of the study. “Al-Qaida may also have concerns about the survivability of such groups,” including their susceptibility to infiltration by Israeli intelligence.

Levitt’s co-author is Yoram Cohen, who until recently served as the deputy director of the Israel Security Agency, Shin Bet.

Their report quotes one militant leader as saying, “We are waiting to carry out a big jihadist operation” dedicated to bin Laden. “If al-Qaida asks us to pledge allegiance to it, we are completely ready for it.”

U.S. administrations have struggled but so far failed to broker an enduring deal in the six-decade old Israeli-Palestinian conflict over the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Hamas surged to power in Palestine in 2007, and has pounded Israel with rocket attacks. A year ago, Israel struck back with a fierce offensive that left about 1,400 Palestinians dead, including many civilians.

Since then Gaza’s Hamas rulers have gained strength but they’ve also drawn sharp criticism from extremist operatives who have denounced the group’s temporary cease fires or truces with Israel, and call for the immediate implementation of Sharia — or strict Islamic — law.

According to the study, the rift between Hamas and its more formidable extremist offshoots — such as Jaish al-Umma, Jaish al-Islam and Jaish Ansar Allah — provides fertile ground for al-Qaida-inspired terrorism. So far, however, the numbers are low, with about 200-300 militants in each group.

Small numbers of foreign fighters also slip into Gaza, including radicalized Europeans from France and Belgium along with militants from Egypt and Yemen.

Levitt and Cohen warn that the al-Qaida-inspired groups in Gaza “think big” and are regularly plotting large-scale attacks against Israel.

“Their capabilities could be enhanced if larger numbers of foreign fighters enter Gaza or if Palestinians who have fought abroad return there,” the report says.


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