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Friday, October 30, 2009     FOR YOUR EYES ONLY

Al Qaida veterans from Iraq, Afghanistan flowing into Gaza despite Hamas crackdown

TEL AVIV — Israel's intelligence community has determined that the Al Qaida presence in the Gaza Strip has expanded significantly.   

Military sources said the intelligence community has assessed that more than 100 Islamic fighters have entered the Gaza Strip from the tunnel network linked to neighboring Egypt. The sources said the influx of the trained operatives was detected throughout 2009.

"These are people who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan and represented the first direct help by the Al Qaida leadership to the Gaza Strip," a military source said.

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The flow of Al Qaida fighters to the Gaza Strip has continued despite Hamas's crackdown. In August 2009, Hamas forces raided a Rafah mosque controlled by the Al Qaida-aligned Jund Ansar Allah and killed the group's leader and more than 20 other operatives.

"Following Hamas's mini-crackdown, the Salafi groupings have continued to grow," Jonathan Spyer, senior research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs Center, said. "No clear line exists between them and the more moderate Islamists of Hamas."

The sources said the new arrivals have been training members of at least two Al Qaida-aligned militias and were bolstering other groups. The militias were identified as the Army of Islam and the Army of Allah, both of which began as criminal gangs associated with the Fatah movement.

The influx of Sunni operatives was said to have been financed by elements within the Gulf Cooperation Council, particularly countries such as Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The sources said these countries have sought to prevent the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip from expanding its alliance with Iran and its proxy, Hizbullah.

"Hamas now faces a powerful Sunni opposition to Iranian infiltration and influence," the source said. "The Al Qaida people would also oppose any directive by Iran to suspend the war against Israel."

The sources said Israel's intelligence community detected an Al Qaida presence in the Gaza Strip as early as 2001. But they said Gulf Arabs and Al Qaida began pouring in money and operatives into the Gaza Strip in 2008 after the Hamas regime rejected Saudi demands to end its alliance with Iran.

The intelligence community has determined that Al Qaida and its Gulf financiers would increase aid and bolster the flow of operatives to the Gaza Strip.

The sources said Al Qaida wants to build a movement similar to Shabab in Somalia, or a well-financed Islamic opposition that could easily recruit operatives and supporters.

"Hamas is very worried over the influx of the Al Qaida people, and has conducted several raids of Army of Islam," the source said.

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