Hamas and Al-Qaeda: Mutual Condemnation or Shared Admiration?
4 May 2011
Hamas Tribute to Bin Laden
The killing of Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden has prompted considerable analysis and unleashed varied emotions. Words of condemnation, statements in tribute to him and calls for revenge were to be expected from al-Qaeda (AQ) supporters and sympathisers in the Global Jihad Movement.
Rather revealing, however, were the words of Ismail Haniyeh, the titular leader of the Hamas administration in the Gaza Strip, in reaction to the momentous news:
We regard this as a continuation of the American policy based on oppression and the shedding of Muslim and Arab blood...We condemn the assassination and the killing of an Arab holy warrior. We ask God to offer him mercy with the true believers and the martyrs.
These words of praise for Bin Laden surprised many but should not be seen in isolation; they are a logical extension of certain commonalities shared between Hamas and Al-Qaeda and its associates in the Global Jihad Movement. Hamas and the Global Jihad Movement do not see eye-to-eye on many matters. Tactical differences and varied priorities are likely to continue to influence their relationship in the future. But they do also share important features, and even points of contact, which should not be ignored. This post offers some examples.
Hamas and Al-Qaeda: Similarities and Differences
Haniyeh reportedly qualified his homage by explaining the ideological or doctrinal differences between Hamas and Al-Qaeda. The two do indeed differ significantly in their origins, composition, ideology and tactics. Both, however, share a common aspiration for the caliphates establishment , although with important differences.
Hamas blends a Muslim Brotherhood Islamist ideology with nationalist ideals, striving to create an Arab and Islamic regime west of the Jordan River and attaching great importance to the territorial contiguity of this area. Meanwhile, Al-Qaedas global jihad is based on a transnational worldview that aims to establish a borderless, global caliphate.
Hamas defines itself in Article 2 of its charter as a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood:
The Islamic Resistance Movement is the branch of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine. The Muslim Brotherhood is a global organization and the largest Islamic movement in modern times. It excels in profound understanding and has an exact, fully comprehensive perception of all Islamic concepts in all areas of life: understanding and thought, politics and economics, education and social affairs, law and government, spreading Islam and teaching, art and the media, by that which is hidden and by martyrdom and in the other areas of life.
Meanwhile the website of Muslim Brotherhood, Ikhwanonline, used to contain the groups declared strategy:
The goal is to establish one Islamic state of united Islamic countries, one nation under one leadership whose mission will be to reinforce adherence to the law of Allah...and the strengthening of the Islamic presence in the world arena....The goal...is the establishment of a world Islamic state.
And if prayer is a pillar of the faith, then jihad is its summit...and death in the path of Allah is the summit of aspiration.
Famously, Bin Ladens mentor, Sheikh Abdullah Azzam, the leader of the Arab Afghan volunteers who fought the Soviet Unions invasion of Afghanistan, was born in Jenin and later joined the Brotherhood while studying in Egypt. Other well-known individuals linked with terrorist organisations began their violent campaigns with the Brotherhood, including AQ deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Omar Abdul Rahman, Abu Musab al-Suri and Mohammed Atta.
The Hamas Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades apparently even named a military school in the Gaza Strip the Shaheed Dr. Abdallah Azzam Academy; the school taught how to make improvised explosive devices (IEDs), amongst other terrorist skills. Hamas-produced posters have included Azzam alongside pictures of Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood leaders, as can be seen here:
Hamas also produced the following poster, with a photo of Azzam and his words extolling jihad, which was found in 2003 in a Hamas-run charity in Tulkarm:
Does the Global Jihad Movement Support or Reject Hamas?
The relationship between Hamas and AQ has been fractious and inconsistent. At times, global Salafi Jihadists have described Hamas as indulging in shirk (idolatry) and being kuffar (unbelievers), while at other times they have praised Hamas violence against Israel.
AQ leaders Ayman al-Zawahiri and Abu Yahya al-Libi denounced Hamas for participating in the 2006 elections, which they deemed to be a forbidden practice, and for its unity agreement with Fatah in 2007. Hamas, however, gained kudos among global jihadists for its violent takeover of the Gaza Strip in 2007. In 2009, Mustafa Abu al-Yazid (a.k.a., Sheikh Said), the commander of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, stated that the two groups share the same ideology and the same doctrine; Islamist theoretician Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi disagreed with this proposition and claimed that Hamas and Salafi Jihadists share neither ideology nor doctrine. And, indeed, Hamas has clashed violently with Salafi Jihadist groups in the Gaza Strip that sympathise with AQ and that seek to compete with Hamas for recruits and influence.
The two, however, have also had important operational ties that are often overlooked, as terrorism expert Jonathan Schanzer has explained:
In the early and mid-1990s Hamas members received paramilitary training and attended Islamist conferences in Sudan, alongside bin Laden and his supporters.
The operational ties were confirmed a decade later, when bin Laden reportedly sent emissaries to Hamas on two separate occasions (September 2000 and January 2001). While most analysts believe Hamas rejected al Qaedas offer to coordinate violence against Israel, it appears Hamas never closed the door. In 2002, the Washington Post quoted official U.S. government sources as confirming a loose alliance between al-Qaeda, Hamas, and Hizbullah.
In 2003, Israel arrested three Hamas fighters returning from al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan. That same year, Jordanian security officials confirmed to Time magazine that two Hamas members went on a recruiting mission in Afghanistan hoping to bring al Qaeda fighters back to the Palestinian territories.
Additionally, the Gaza-based Salafi Jihadist Duggmush clan, which was linked to the Popular Resistance Committees, joined Hamas in 2006 in the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. (The Duggmush clan and supporters in the PRC later split to establish the AQ-sympathising Jaish-e-Islam - Army of Islam - group.)
Bin Ladens Guide Who Also Admires Hamas
Abd al-Majid al-Zindani, a Yemeni Islamist leader and leading al-Qaeda figure, provides an interesting personal connection between Hamas and AQ.
In February 2004, the US and UK governments proscribed Zindani. HM Treasury, via the Bank of England, instructed financial institutions to freeze all assets linked to Zindani due to concerns that the individual is or may be a person who facilitates the commission of acts of terrorism or may be a person who is controlled by a person who facilitates the commission of acts of terrorism.
The US Treasury Department described Zindani as a loyalist to Usama bin Laden and supporter of al-Qaeda...[having] a long history of working with bin Laden, notably serving as one of his spiritual leaders. It named Zindani as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist for his support for terrorist groups and individuals. US court documents also identified Zindani as the coordinator of the USS Cole attack in 2000 and alleged that he personally selected the suicide bombers who perpetrated the attack.
In 2006, Zindani spoke at a Hamas conference in Yemen that was attended by Khaled Mishal, the head of the Hamas political bureau in Syria. Zindani praised Hamas suicide attackers and described the Hamas-led government as the jihad-fighting, steadfast, resolute government of Palestine. He also urged the audience to give Hamas money, and they pledged millions of riyals. Here is a video of his speech at the conference:
Additionally, the US Treasury Departments designation of the Union of Good, the charity umbrella organisation that the US has accused of handling funds for Hamas, specifically names Zindani as being a board member of the Union.
In a report and interview with Zindani in the Spanish newspaper ABC on 11th October 2009 (translated by BBC Monitoring), the Islamist leader apparently expressed his admiration for Hamas in other ways too:
[T]he entrance to Al-Zindani's home is decorated with pictures of leaders of the Palestinian group like Khalid Mish'al.
Zindani also articulated an antisemitic understanding of world affairs, which he connected specifically to his support for Hamas:
The Jewish people are biggest liars in history [sic]. Over the years they've dedicated themselves solely to pouring insults on the prophet. It's that attitude which will lead them to rot in hell. Our duty is therefore to ensure they are punished for the sins committed, which is what our brothers in Hamas are already doing...an anti-Jewish crusade [as published] which I praise, because it's also a fight for Islam. Likewise, Christianity has consciously continued the fallacies begun by the Jewish people. They are therefore also accomplices in the historical maltreatment which the prophet Muhammad has suffered. But rest assured, one day Islam will be only religion [of] which the world speaks. [emphasis added]
The Middle Ages show in Europe that a state ruled according to the religious precepts of Christianity is inapplicable. This situation is similar to the one currently existing in the United States, where Christianity and the Jewish lobby have taken over power.
Zindani originally met Bin Laden at the King Abd-al-Aziz University in Saudi Arabia, where the former was lecturer and the latter was a student. In the interview, Zindani reveals his admiration for Bin Laden:
Usamah was and is a good man, like the other Sunni teachers. In the 1980s I fought alongside him in Afghanistan against Soviet troops...its our duty as Muslims to follow his words and put them into practice.
Our duty is to spread the word of the prophet to the rest of the world and, if necessary, give our lives for Allah. Thats why, on occasion, murder is a just cause. Despite the lies of the West, the teacher Bin-Ladin like the Muslim brothers who fight in Iraq, Afghanistan, northern Yemen or Indonesia is only putting these words into practice.
Al-Muhajiroun, al-Qaeda and Hamas
Al-Muhajiroun and its successor groups are the UK's most prominent Salafi Jihadi supporters of al-Qaeda's global jihad, for which they have been banned by the government. Omar Bakri Mohammed, who used to lead Al-Muhajiroun but now lives in Lebanon and is excluded from the UK, has also reflected an inconsistent attitude towards Hamas. (Omar Bakri has also flip-flopped over his attitude towards Hizbollah, though this is a story for a separate occasion.)
In an interview with the Israeli newspaper Makor Rishon on 22nd August 2008 (not online), for example, Omar Bakri denigrated Hamas as unbelievers:
From my point of view, Ismail Haniyah and the Hamas government are Kuffars.
He described Hamas as a nationalist movement fighting for land, rather than for Islam and the creation of an Islamic state, and he accused Hamas of building kuffar state institutions with the aide of Iranian Shia money.
In the mid-1990s, however, Omar Bakri and Al-Muhajiroun openly encouraged people to donate money to Hamas and extolled the groups virtues. He was quoted in the Observer on 10th March 1996 (not online) that Al-Muhajirouns job was to be the eyes and ears and tongue of Hamas and called descriptions of Hamas as terrorists as an insult to Muslims who are struggling for a good cause.
In the 1997 Channel 4 documentary Tottenham Ayatollah, the filmmaker Jon Ronson followed Omar Bakri in a shop while he selected giant plastic coca-cola bottles to be used in collecting money for Hamas, as can be seen after 4 minutes 50 seconds of this video:
Omar Bakri was also indirectly linked to the suicide bombing at Mike's Place bar in Tel Aviv by two British Islamists. The two British nationals, Asif Mohammed Hanif and Omar Khan Sharif, who perpetrated the attack murdering three and injuring fifty, were connected to global jihadi networks in the UK, but their martyrdom video was filmed and released by Hamas Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, and a tribute to them remains on the Brigades website:
They both studied with Omar Bakri, though no evidence suggests he instructed them to undertake the attack. He explained his relationship with them, as well as his reaction to the bombing, as follows:
To be honest with you I knew both of them, but I did not know them except on the level as teacher and student...There is no way for me to condemn the self-sacrificing operation that took place in Palestine against occupying forces.
Of course, Omar Bakri, Al-Muhajiroun and its successors have supported AQ and other Salafi Jihadis for years. Al-Muhajiroun infamously referred to the 9/11 bombers as The Magnificent 19. In fact, on 19th January of this year, Omar Bakri explained to al-Jazeera exactly the extent of his admiration for Bin Laden (transcribed and translated by BBC Monitoring):
No doubt, Shaykh Usamah Bin-Ladin is one of the shaykhs of Islam. He is a man in this time when men are few...The allegiance that links me to Usamah Bin-Ladin is not only that we are Muslims, as is the case with the rest of the Muslims; he belongs to the salafi jihadist school to which I belong. Shaykh Usama slept on the ground without a cover to fight the Crusaders in this age. He not only theorizes about jihad; he practices it on the battlefield. People look at Shaykh Usama with respect because it has not been proven that he did something that is in violation of the shari'ah. We love Shaykh Usamah Bin-Ladin for God's sake. Some people might think that because we are away from the battlefield and jihad we do not support jihad by words or supplication and even by money if we managed to do that.
Followers of Omar Bakri still residing in the UK seem to have heeded his lessons well. Anjem Choudary, who used to describe himself as the UK Leader of Al-Muhajiroun before it was banned, has released this tribute to Bin Laden on his personal website and on the website of Muslims Against Crusades, one of the current Al-Muhajiroun successor groups, accompanied by a very telling banner:
I remind you that Al-Qaeda is not a group rather it is today a phenomenon of struggle and resistance against the occupation of Muslim land and the defence of Muslim life, honour and property wherever it is being attacked.
Rather than dampening the spirits of those who are today engaged in Jihad physically around the world and who considered Sheikh Usama Bin Laden as there Ameer, his death will merely act as an incentive to prove to the world that the death of anyone will not affect them. Hence in the coming days and weeks we will no doubt see increased activities from the Mujahideen and more intense fighting in the battlefields of Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Chechnya etc...
May Allah (SWT) accept Sheikh Usama Bin laden shaheed (martyred) Insha'allah.
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