In a worrying illustration of ISIS network in Gaza, a Saudi Arabian veteran of jihadi battlefields had traveled from Syria to fight Israel.
by Ari Soffer, Arutz Sheva
A Saudi-born Islamic State fighter was reportedly among those killed by Israel in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge, according to reports in the Arab media, highlighting the worrying presence of IS (or ISIS) networks inside the Hamas-controlled territory.
The pan-Arab Al Hayat news outlet published a picture of the man, named as Sultan Farhan Rajah Harbi, but who also went under several nom de guerre, including Khaled al-Jazrawi.
His resume boasts an impressive list of jihadi battlefields.
Prior to Gaza, Harbi started in the Al Qaeda badlands of Yemen, from where he moved on to Somalia, where Al Qaeda-linked Al Shabaab terrorists are battling government and African Union forces. From Somalia he traveled to Libya, which is currently the scene of an ongoing struggle between Islamist and secular forces, and from there made his way to Turkey – a popular transit route for would-be jihadis to join the Syrian civil war.
However, Al Hayat claims he left Syria after only two months fighting for the Islamic State – formerly known as ISIS – having become disillusioned with the bloody infighting between rival rebel groups, which has been eagerly capitalized upon by the Assad regime.
The Islamic State has been responsible for much of that infighting in its bloody quest to monopolize power in areas under its control. It has clashed with practically every rebel faction, including Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front, after ISIS officially broke away from Al Qaeda last year.
Harbi reportedly crossed back into Turkey and headed for Egypt’s lawless Sinai Peninsula, where Islamic State and Al Qaeda-liked jihadists hare engaged in a low-level insurgency with the Egyptian military. Last week, the largest such group – Ansar Beyt al-Maqdis – released grisly footage of the beheading of four men it said were informants.
Harbi then crossed into the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip via the vast network of tunnels under the Egyptian border, in time for the initial stages of this summer’s military operation.
Upon his arrival in Gaza, the veteran jihadi assumed the name “Salamah”. He suffered light shrapnel wounds to his head and leg during first days of fighting, which saw heavy Israeli Air Force strikes on terrorist targets.
Despite those injuries he carried on fighting alongside Gazan Islamist terrorists, before eventually being eliminated last Monday, not long before the operation ended with a controversial ceasefire.
Harbi appears to have been killed in a missile attack on a car in the Shajaiya neighborhood in eastern Gaza, which was the scene of some of the most intense fighting between the IDF and Gazan terrorists.
His family expressed “surprise” at news of his death in Gaza, who they said they hadn’t heard from for a long time, but confirmed they had recognized him from pictures circulated online.
The presence of ISIS cells in Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula is not a new development.
A number of Gazan Islamists are already known to have traveled to Syria to fight in the ranks of IS, and a spotlight was shone on Islamic State cells actively operating inside Gaza back in June, not long before Operation Protective Edge, when an IAF strike eliminated two terrorists affiliated with the group.
Until now, however, those cells were independently-formed jihadist factions comprised entirely of Palestinian and Egyptian Arabs. Although having sworn loyalty to ISIS – and later to its “Caliphate” or Islamic state – they were operationally independent of it.
The story of a foreign Islamic State fighter traveling to Gaza then is a worrying development. Even though in this case, the man in question left Syria after abandoning IS forces there, his ability to utilize regional Islamist networks to enter Gaza and join the war against Israel will provide serious food for thought for Israeli security analysts.