Three jihadists killed by Israeli security forces near Hebron last week belonged to al-Qaeda, an affiliate organization announced on Saturday. The Mujahideen Shura Council said on its website that the men were members of a cell connected to the global terror network.
“We announce to the nation joyously that with the grace of God the ideology of global jihad has attained a foothold in the West Bank, after everyone had tried to abort every seed planted there,” the message read.
Though global jihadist activity has been known to exist in the Gaza Strip, its advance in the West Bank is largely new. The more common stream of Salafi, or fundamentalist Islam, in the West Bank was non-violent and affiliated with the 60-year-old political party Hizb Ut-Tahrir, with its ideological reach spreading across the Arab Middle East and the Indian sub-continent.
The Israeli Shin Bet refrained from defining the activists as al-Qaeda members when describing the incident on its website last week, reporting that they had planned to carry out a series of terror attacks against Israel and the PA. The men, the Shin Bet reported, had been preparing the attacks for months, acquiring safe-houses, weapons and explosives.
In its statement, the jihadist organization also condemned the negotiations underway between Israel and the PLO. “We call on all loyal people to deplore the so-called negotiations, which reek of collaboration,” it said.
Some Palestinian commentators were uncomfortable with the notion of an al-Qaeda presence in the West Bank, dubbing the reports Israeli propaganda.
“The absence of a Palestinian narrative and the silence of Palestinian organizations and security agencies is allowing the Israeli narrative to spread and become accepted,” wrote Nasser Lahham, editor-in-chief of the independent Ma’an news agency on Saturday, in an op-ed titled “Does Salafist jihad exist in the West Bank?”
“The public doesn’t like silence and cannot accept a vacuum,” he added.
Even if the previously quietist Palestinian Salafis are indeed becoming violent, it is a small surprise given the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Lahham said, arguing that “confronting jihadist Salafis and radical cells cannot be confined to assassinating this Salafi or that. Force only begets force.”