Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, a jihadist group formally affiliated with the Islamic State, has claimed responsibility for two mortar shells launched at Hamas targets in Gaza. The attack follows a growing war of words triggered by mass arrests of ISIS supporters by the Palestinian terror group.
Arutz Sheva reports that the group attacked targets related to the Al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, which also politically runs Gaza. Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis allegedly also sent warnings to Gazan civilians that they would bomb the area, asking them to “distance yourself from military and security posts and guard your lives.” The message taking credit for the attack also mentioned ISIS supporters currently under custody of Hamas, whom they vowed to liberate.
Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis operates mainly in the Sinai region and pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in November, now calling themselves “Supporters of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in Jerusalem.” Reports of Islamic State training of Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis groups surfaced months before the official announcement, however.
The Jerusalem Post notes that the ISIS-affiliated group “accused Hamas of waging a massive crackdown on their men.” Hamas officials indeed arrested a large number of pro-ISIS Salafist men this week. The number has not been released, but experts estimate them to be in the “dozens.”
The arrests followed claims by the pro-ISIS group that Hamas had destroyed a mosque in Deir Al-Balah known to be frequented by Salafi jihadists. In the message asserting this, they accused Hamas of “acting in a way that even the Jewish occupiers and the Americans have not acted,” and vowed to free those arrested and continue attacks on Hamas. The announcement was followed by a bomb exploding outside the headquarters of Hamas, and a separate message in which the pro-ISIS group threatened that “our socials are ready to act against chosen targets at the end of this ultimatum” if the men were not released by Thursday. The bombings on Friday followed the end of the ultimatum.
Hamas has responded to the tensions by sending out alerts telling Gazans that the threat is much more minimal than it appears: “Residents can tour Gaza without need of a weapon from Rafah to Beit Hanoun,” said Interior Ministry spokesman Iyad al-Bazam on Facebook.
Tensions have long existed between Islamic State Salafist supporters and the terrorist group Hamas. These were perhaps most prominently highlighted in a comedy sketch airing on Palestinian television in July 2014, which parodied the Islamic State as ruthless murderers of Muslims who treated Israeli Jews better than Muslims, could barely work their weapons, and had slight homosexual tendencies.