Thursday, July 5, 2007

Hamas and the Army of Islam

Alan Johnston, the BBC reporter captured by a little known terrorist group called the "Army of Islam" four months ago, was finally freed yesterday. Upon his release, Johnston stated that his captors were "just cruising along" under the Fatah security regime, but there was a palpable fear once Hamas' Gaza military coup. Johnston said, "If Hamas didn't come in and put the heat on, I'm pretty sure I'd still be there."

Here is a summary of the events leading up to his release:

On June 15th, after Hamas conquered the Gaza Strip, its leaders announced that one of its priorities was the release of Johnston.

On June 24th, the Army of Islam (Jaish al-Islam in Arabic) released the following video of Alan Johnston, which shows him in a suicide vest. Johnston pleads for his life, and warns that if Hamas or any other entity attempted to free him by force, the Army of Islam would detonate him.

On July 2nd, Hamas seized several members of the Army of Islam including Khattab al-Maqdisi, the spokesman of the group. Hamas accused al-Maqdisi of opening fire on Hamas security forces.

On July 3rd, hundreds of Hamas gunmen gathered around the area where Johnston was held. Hamas snipers took positions on nearby rooftops and placed vehicles in the road to block off exits.

Early on July 4th, Hamas and the Army of Islam struck a deal and Johnston was released.

The details of the bargain to free Johnston are not clear, but one thing is for certain: the Army of Islam will not be immediately disarmed. A Hamas spokesman stated that the group may keep its weapons if it uses them "to be part of the resistance." In the parlance of Hamas,
that means attacking Israel.

But the main reason that Hamas cited the release of Johnston as a top priority was to gain international legitimacy. As I stated in a previous post, the release of Johnston was one of the steps Hamas must take in order to achieve legitimacy. But it must also maintain order. The Army of Islam is an al-Qaida inspired criminal organization lead by a powerful Gaza clan that has frequently clashed with Hamas, Fatah, and others. Hamas will not be able to preserve the peace if the Army of Islam is allowed to retain arms.

Furthermore, the mere suggestion of a tolerance for al-Qaida will drive off any international good will that Hamas received from securing the release of Johnston. When the Army of Islam kidnapped the BBC reporter, the group demanded that Britain exchange him for detained terror suspect Abu Qatada al-Filistini. The British accuse al-Filistini of mentoring 9/11 co-conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui as well as attempted "shoe-bomber" Richard Reid. In addition, sermons from al-Filistini were found among the possessions of 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta.

But even if the Army of Islam had no connections to al-Qaida and only aimed its weapons at Israel, Israel's responses to terrorist attacks would disrupt Hamas' attempts to establish order. Just as Islamic Jihad's incessant rocket fire into Israeli towns will prevent the residents of Gaza from living in peace, so will Israeli Defense Force reactions to attacks from the Army of Islam.

Hamas is making a deadly mistake in allowing the Army of Islam to retain its arms. Such a decision can only lead to further instability in--and international isolation of--the Gaza Strip.

Update 4/28/09
I am now an attorney at Richard J. Mockler, P.A. Visit us on the web at


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