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Syria 1st-Hand: The Gazans Who Fight with the Insurgency (al-Ghoul)

Rally in northern Gaza for the Syrian opposition, January 2013

Asmaa al-Ghoul writes for Al Monitor:

I managed to reach the house of one of the jihadist Salafist leaders in the Gaza Strip. The Hamas-led Gaza government had imposed limitations on most jihadist Salafist leaders following the Ibn Taymiya Mosque incidents in Rafah at the end of 2009, when its security forces killed 28 jihadists after their leader, Abdel Latif Moussa, declared the Islamic caliphate. Salafist jihadism in the Gaza Strip is an international movement that promotes armed jihad against the ruling Arab and foreign governments.

The only way to reach the house of the leader, who was forbidden from talking to the press, was by being disguised as a devout woman. Then I revealed my identity as a journalist, after which the Salafist leader's family kicked me out. However, he explained why the members of the movement had moved to Syria to fight, saying, “They moved to Syria because the jihad door in the Gaza Strip was closed, and the situation was not taken into consideration, contrary to Syria, where it is open to jihad and to fighting the enemy.” He refused to define what he means by enemy, and he noted that after he was locked up more than once in the aftermath of Ibn Taymiya Mosque incident, he sought to live a simple life and to keep his jihad mission and vocation as a member of the Salafist jihad between God and himself.

When asked if he is considering going to Syria himself, should he get the chance, he replied, “I prefer to keep this to myself.” Regarding the movement’s connection with al-Qaeda, the leader said that both organizations share the same approach, which calls for unity and jihad in the name of God, adding that only their names differ. Moreover, he said what differentiates them from other Salafism movements is that they abide by the religion as a whole, following the ideology of Sheikh Muhammad al-Maqdisi.

Despite his reluctance to talk or to disclose the number of militants from Gaza in Syria, he ultimately provided some information about their presence and efforts against the regime in Syria, independent of the Free Syrian Army. The militants joined Jabhat al-Nusra, which was formed in 2011 in Syria and was classified by the US as a terrorist organization.

On leaving the house of the Salafist leader, who insisted on remaining anonymous, I was able to get an interview with the families of two Salafists who had participated in the battle in Syria, and who were declared dead by al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra on the Internet.

When I reached the house of the deceased Muhammad Qunayta, his brother refused to talk to me, despite having earlier confirmed the meeting.

However, the women poured their hearts out to me, expressing their sorrow for the sudden and tragic death of their son.

The sister of the deceased said, “Before he traveled, he was watching several videos from Syria and bitterly crying for the souls of children, women and wounded people. Then, he told us he was going to Turkey for trade purposes. We found out later that he went to Syria to carry out a martyrdom there.” She added that her brother’s conscience pushed him to fight in Syria. In his last days, he used to repeat, “My conscience cannot rest with all this injustice in Syria.”

Qunayta’s sister added that he was married with three kids. The family watched the video of the “massive” funeral and burial of their son, who was considered a leader and trainer, in Syria online.

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