Asmaa al-Ghoul is a journalist and writer from the Rafah refugee camp in Gaza. Here she reports for Al-Monitor on the Islamist movements inside the occupied territory:
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.