Zeroing in on Fatah-al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades

Osama bin Laden‘s global terrorist movement infiltrated the Palestinian-controlled Gaza Strip and West Bank almost a year after taking over its Palestinian host in Lebanon. Here, al Qaeda zeroed in on the crumbling Fatah al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terror sources report that al Qaeda cells, some belonging to Abu Musab al Zarqawi’s Iraqi network, marched into the Gaza Strip between October and December 2005.

The scale of this invasion can be gauged by a single piece of intelligence.

Between December 2005 and the first days of January 2006, the rate of desertions from Palestinian security services shot up to 40%.

These deserters usually walk off in uniform with their side-arms, and often with any military equipment they can lay their hands on. They hire out to anyone offering them a regular paycheck with bonuses, care for their families and permission to keep their guns. Since many are ex-Fatah, most make a beeline for the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades which formally belongs to Fatah and on paper, though not in practice, owes allegiance to the Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas aka Abu Mazen.

Our sources reveal that the Brigades in fact only exist in name.

New splinters sprout daily. They sport the name of al Aqsa Brigades, but are really no more than crime gangs run by local arms and dope runners, or else by Iranian and Hizballah undercover agents who hire them for cash.

This breakdown of established groups into lawless armed gangs was exploited by al Qaeda to buy its way into the disintegrating Palestinian terrorist movement.

Intelligence experts keeping track of this teeming labyrinth of criminal-cum-terrorist factions report that purported Palestinian terrorist groups pop up in the Gaza Strip badlands every day. They claim membership of al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, but more and more identify themselves by jihadist names typical of al Qaeda’s networks.

For instance, a group that made an appearance in the Gaza Strip Tuesday, January 3, called itself the Storm Riders, a name taken from Zarqawi’s networks, or the Ibn al Walid Battalion, for the Muslim general who defeated the Byzantine armies at Hittin in the 7th century.

These names taken from fundamentalist Muslim traditions are atypical of Palestinian terror groups, unless they have switched to a radical Muslim framework and choose to flaunt their new identity.

The al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades of the Fatah are not fragmenting alone. Undergoing similar disintegration – albeit to a lesser extent – are the Jihad Islami and the once-Marxist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Here too al Qaeda is poised ready to pick up the pieces and run with them and gobble them up.

In the last two days of December, 2005, al Aqsa gunmen seized control of the Rafah border terminal between Gaza and Egyptian Sinai. Their pretext, the death of one of their number at the hands of a rival gang, was a cover story.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly discovered that al Qaeda’s cell in the Gaza had paid the gunmen to commandeer the terminal and open it up to dozens of al Qaeda operatives streaming into Gaza from Sinai.

This new influx built up the jihadist operational force in Gaza Strip to a figure estimated in hundreds.

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