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Arrigoni with Haniyeh
Photo: EPA
Salafi groups pose challenge for Hamas
Despite ruling Gaza Strip with iron fist, Hamas faces growing opposition from extremist Islamic factions that consider its regime 'too liberal.' Latest example is kidnapping, murder of pro-Palestinian Italian activist

The execution of Italian activist Vittorio Arrigoni, who was murdered by a radical Islamist group in Gaza early Friday, sheds light on yet another facet of the extremist ideology held by Salafi organizations in the Gaza Strip.

 

The Hamas' security apparatus' quick response following news of the kidnapping, which led to the discovery of the body and several arrests, reiterated their uncompromising struggle against these extremist factions.

 

So are these small groups that have engaged in an all-out war against the Hamas government in the Strip?

 

The Salafi groups derive their ideology from global jihad activities, and in particular from al-Qaeda.

 

Salafism is a fundamentalist Sunni stream of Islam, which calls to return to the origins of the Faith. According to Salafi ideology, Islam was flawless in its original form, and has deteriorated with time.

 

As such, they advocate a return to the purest form of Islam, practiced back in the days of Prophet Muhammad.

 

Salafism is often characterized by religious zealotry and intolerance toward the West and the Christian minority in the Gaza Strip.

 

Hamas 'too liberal'

The Salafi movements began operating in the Strip in the early 2000s, but gained momentum only after Hamas took control over Gaza in 2007.

 

However, even with the more "convenient" Hamas at the helm, Salafist groups challenged the leadership, claiming its approach was "too liberal."

 

Two years ago, the battle between Hamas and the Salafists culminated when one of the groups' most prominent spiritual leaders, Sheikh Abdul-Latif Moussa, declared the establishment of an Islamic emirate in the Strip.

 

Areigoni in the Gaza Strip (Photo: AP)

 

In response to what was regarded as a "call to war," Hamas' security forces raided a mosque in Rafah, where Moussa – also known as Abu Noor al-Maqdisi – carried the controversial sermon.

 

Twenty four people were killed and over 100 were injured in the battles that ensued between the two sides. Among the victims was also al-Maqdisi himself. The incident gravely damaged the Salafist movement, but did not destroy it completely.

 

Behind rocket attack on Israel

One of the leading Salafi groups in the Strip is al-Tawhid Wal-Jihad (Monotheism and Holy War) – an extremist militant organization suspected of launching attacks against western targets in the Sinai Peninsula.

 

The organization is also known for its extensive activities against Israel, including the firing of rockets on Gaza vicinity communities last week.

 

A month ago, Hamas' security apparatus detained one of the group's leaders, Hisham al-Saidni, after a long manhunt.

 

In the abduction video released on Thursday, the kidnappers demanded al-Saidni's release in return for the release of Arrigoni.

 

However, shortly after Arrigoni's body was discovered, the group withdrew a statement in which it claimed responsibility for his kidnapping and murder on Friday.

 

"Even though we have no connection to the kidnapping, we would like to stress that what happened is the natural outcome to the Hamas government policy against other organizations within the Strip," the group said.

 

 

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