Purge engineered by Iran sparks crisis for Islamic Jihad

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

GAZA CITY The Iranian-backed Islamic Jihad has been wracked by the worst crisis in its 25-year history.

Palestinian sources said the crisis stems from a leadership reshuffle ordered by Iran. The sources said the resulting infighting has been exacerbated by a shortage of money for operatives and supporters.

The crisis has led to the resignation of the spiritual leader of Jihad, Sheik Abdullah Shami, Middle East Newsline reported. Shami, 50, resigned from the group's consultative council in protest of a decision to usurp his authority.

"I have decided to resign quietly from the movement in bitterness and pain within hope that the movement will overcome its internal failure," Shami said in an Aug. 2 letter.

Jihad is the smallest of the major Palestinian insurgency groups in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Jihad has been sponsored by Iran throughout its history and sources said the Islamic republic has tightened its grip on the group over the last year.

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[On Tuesday, Islamic Jihad reported that one of its combatants was killed by Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip. The Jihad insurgent was said to have been attempting to enter the Israeli community of Dugit.]

Unlike Hamas and Fatah, the Jihad movement does not have a significant political wing. The group is largely composed of operatives and has supplied a large portion of the suicide bombers in attacks in Israeli cities. Many of the attacks were coordinated with Fatah and Hamas.

In June, the sources said, Iran began to purge members of the Jihad movement in the Gaza Strip. Shami, regarded as one of the few independent members of Jihad, was marginalized and Iran appointed Ahmed Batash as spokesman of the movement. The appointment resulted in Iranian funds being directed to Batash rather than Shami.

In 2003, Iran appointed Mohammed Hindi, Nafez Azzam and Batash as the leaders of the group. The three Jihad members were said to have opposed Shami's appeals to widen the organization.

In the mid-1990s, Jihad underwent a major crisis that stemmed from a lack of funding. In 1995, the sources said, Jihad sought a $500,000 loan from Hamas to wean itself from dependence on Iran. The loan was not issued but Hamas paid Jihad for its recruitment of suicide bombers for attacks against Israel.

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