Hamas denied the presence of the Islamic State terror group in the Gaza Strip Wednesday, after fliers signed by the jihadist organization have emerged in the Palestinian territory in recent weeks, threatening women and intellectuals.
“We would like to reassure everyone that ISIS does not exist in the Gaza Strip, and the security agencies are in full control of the situation,” Iyad Al-Bozum, a spokesman for Hamas’s interior ministry in Gaza, told Lebanese news channel Al-Mayadeen.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is the former name of the Islamic State, a jihadist offshoot of Al-Qaeda headed by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, which has succeeded in gaining control of large swaths of land in northeastern Syria and northern Iraq in recent months.
On Monday, reports of a flier signed by “ISIS – Gaza Province” emerged on social media websites, warning 18 Gaza-based writers to repent within three days “for offending the tenets of Islam” or face the death penalty for apostasy. The Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority unity government of Rami Hamdallah rushed to condemn the communique, calling it “a dangerous precedent that must be stopped immediately.”
Another pamphlet, dated November 29 and titled “The hijab, the hijab” (the Islamic veil), instructed Gaza’s women to cover their heads “in accordance with Sharia” or face an Islamic trial.
“The veil must be broad and loose, neither tight nor transparent. It must not draw attention by its beauty or perfume,” the statement read. “Warning: the Islamic State allows one week to adhere by the Islamic veil. Any transgression will subject the woman and her guardian to an Islamic tribunal.”
Jerusalem-based daily Al-Quds tried to investigate on Tuesday whether the messages were authentic. It interviewed two Gaza-based militant Salafi leaders who have spent years in Hamas prisons. The two men, Abul-Aynaa’ Al-Ansari and Abu-Nur Al-Maqdisi, rejected the notion that jihadist organizations had issued the announcements.
“All of our fighters in Aknaf Bait Al-Maqdis [the Islamic name used for Israel and the Palestinian territories] support the Islamic State in every move it takes, but so far there has been no real bay’ah [Islamic pledge of allegiance] to the leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. In other words, there is yet no province in Gaza belonging to the Islamic State.”
Ansari insisted that the fliers were fabricated, pointing to the name “Islamic State in Iraq and Syria” which is no longer used by the organization. Al-Maqdisi accused “collaborators with the occupation” of circulating the fake communiques in order “to tarnish the name of the Islamic State.” He argued that relations between Gazas Salafis and Hamas have improved over the past year, following mediation efforts by a number of Arab clerics.
Salafi Jihadist activity is not unknown to the Gaza Strip. In August 2009, Hamas security forces stormed the Salafi Ibn Taymiya mosque and killed jihadist preacher Abdel Latif Moussa who had declared Gaza an “Islamic emirate.” In April 2011, four Salafi activists kidnapped and killed Italian journalist and activist Vittorio Arrigoni. The four were sentenced to life imprisonment with hard labor in September 2012.