Daesh Can't Challenge Hamas But Spread of Their Ideology is a Threat, Says Ex-Salafi Activist

© AP Photo / Adel HanaMasked militants from the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, a military wing of Hamas, march with their rifles along the main road of the Nusseirat refugee camp, central Gaza Strip, Thursday, 28 October 2021.
Masked militants from the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, a military wing of Hamas, march with their rifles along the main road of the Nusseirat refugee camp, central Gaza Strip, Thursday, 28 October 2021. - Sputnik International, 1920, 24.03.2022
The exact number of Salafis in the Gaza Strip is tough to estimate, but it is believed that there are some 500 people who share this ideology. Those are critical of Hamas; they call them infidels and are advocating for their ouster and for the establishment of an Islamic emirate on all Palestinian lands.
Shortly after Mohammed Ghaleb Abou Al Qiyan, a 34-year-old Israeli Arab and a Daesh* sympathizer, murdered four and injured two others in the city of Beersheba, in southern Israel, many residents of the Gaza Strip took to the streets to celebrate the occasion.
They sang songs and gave out candy, whereas the Hamas authorities welcomed Abou Al Qiyan's move, calling it heroic.
Israeli security and rescue forces secure the scene of an attack in which people were killed near a shopping centre in Beersheba, Israel, March 22, 2022 - Sputnik International, 1920, 23.03.2022
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Roots of Salafism

Hamas, which has controlled the Strip since 2007, seems to have a short memory. Just two years after they had established their control of the enclave, the Islamic group fought openly with a number of local Salafis, when one of their leaders declared the establishment of an Islamic emirate in Gaza.
Back then, Hamas managed to quell their uprising, but as Daesh grew stronger in 2014-2015, Salafis started rearing their heads in Gaza again and local authorities have been struggling to contain the spread of their ideology ever since.

One of Them

Sameer, not his real name, a resident of Gaza, says he was only 17 when he started following the radical Islamic ideology propagated by Daesh.

"I was in the 11th grade when I met people who introduced me to the teachings of Daesh," Sameer, who is now 22, recalls.

"A friend of mine gave me a book titled the Infidels of Hamas and I was so impressed by it that I decided to be part of that movement," he told Sputnik over a video call.
It was because of that book that Sameer left his studies and started attending secret gatherings organised by that group. He was going to their prayer meetings and became a regular in their preaching sessions, where they called for the ouster of Hamas from the Gaza Strip and the establishment of an Islamic caliphate on the Palestinian territories that would adhere to strict religious rules.
The number of Daesh sympathisers is hard to estimate. Sameer says there are roughly 500 Salafis in the enclave but they belong to four principal active groups: Jund Ansar Allah, Jaysh al Islam, Jaysh al Umma and A-Tawhid wa Al-Jihad. All of them present a serious headache to the Hamas authorities.
In August 2017, a suicide bomber allegedly linked to Daesh killed a Hamas guard and injured several others in southern Gaza.
Reports have also suggested that Salafis, who advocate a much harsher stance against Israel than that of Hamas, have repeatedly disobeyed the Islamic group and fired rockets at the Jewish state to trigger a war. And it was they who threatened neighbouring Egypt's stability by establishing ties with the Sinai peninsula terrorist groups.

Quelling Opposition

Pretty soon, Hamas realised it had had enough, and began to persecute the Salafis. They clashes with members of these groups, and they confiscated their weapons.
Sameer believes Hamas was not afraid of the Salafis' military capabilities. Boasting tens of thousands of well-trained and equipped soldiers, the Islamic group is able to quell any threat to their rule. But the spread of their ideology and the fact that they were constantly challenging the organisation by disobeying their decisions, was something local authorities could not tolerate.
As a result, many of the Salafis have been arrested and thrown in jail without a trial. Sameer says he was one of them.
"They beat me up, tortured me and kept me in unbearable conditions. They were trying to extract information from me but I had little knowledge about organisers and their plans, and that made Hamas even angrier".
Eventually, Sameer was released. He says he has grown up, left that radical ideology, and is looking for a stable life free of fear and persecution. But he also claims that the past haunts him, and so does Hamas.
"I have been arrested and jailed three times by Hamas. They took me away even when I dropped that ideology and had nothing to do with neither Daesh nor other Salafis. I am tired of this. All I want now is to learn a new language, leave Gaza and start my life all over, without this constant fear that I will end up in their prison again."
*Daesh, also known as ISIS/IS/Islamic State, is a terrorist organisation banned in Russia and many other countries.
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