Monday night, Jan. 2, Al Qaeda claimed to have established its first Jerusalem operational cell calling it the "Sunni Youth Movement Cell in Greater Jerusalem." Bulletin No. 1 with details of the organization and its targets was promised in the next few days. According to debkafile's counter-terror sources, Israeli intelligence has advised the government and security services to treat the announced appearance of al Qaeda, and its aim to reach out from Jerusalem to the West Bank, very seriously.
They believe it may have been triggered by Palestinian plans to launch a "popular resistance" campaign from the West Bank. As disclosed earlier by debkafile, the Palestinian Authority and Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah are getting set for mass demonstrators to crash their way across barriers into Israel, whereas Hamas and Jihad Islami aim to use the resulting commotion for terrorist attacks.
Those intelligence sources also tie the rise of the first Al Qaeda cell in greater Jerusalem with the mushrooming of Palestinian Islamist Salafite organizations in the Palestinian centers of Lebanon and the Gaza Strip. These organizations are either linked directly to Al Qaeda or deeply influenced by its jihadist ideology and ready to act on it.
Such organizations as Fatah al-Islam, Ansar al Sunna and Jund al Sham, for instance, are catching on like wildfire in the Palestinian enclave of Al Hilwa near the south Lebanese port of Sidon. Al Qaeda and its extremist offspring are already in control of parts of the camp. Armed Fatah groups have been battling those organizations in unsuccessful efforts to cut down their spreading influence.
In the Gaza Strip, the rapid growth of Salafist groups affiliated to al Qaeda is causing deep concern, debkafile's counter-terror sources report. Whereas three months ago, al Qaeda networks in Sinai took the lead in cultivating, arming and boosting the fighting ranks of the Salafist cells in Gaza – with the Hamas rulers turning a blind eye – today the situation is reversed: The al Qaeda-linked organizations of Gaza are supplying the Sinai networks with fighters and arms and inciting them to terrorize Egyptian, Jordanian and Israeli targets.
At least some of the last missile attacks on Israel from the Gaza Strip were staged by Salafists.
It looks as though the Al Qaeda contagion spreading through Palestinian centers in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip may be trying to plant itself in Jerusalem and the West Bank too.