MidEast

ISIS Fighter’s Open Letter to al-Baghdadi Reveals Group’s Extensive Ties to Hamas

An open letter by a disgruntled ISIS fighter to the self-proclaimed caliphate’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, revealed extensive ties between the group’s affiliate in the Sinai Peninsula and the Palestinian terror organization Hamas.

The letter, written by Abu Abdallah al-Muhajir, a jihadist from Gaza who now fights for ISIS in Syria, complained that ISIS-Sinai Province, the group’s Egyptian affiliate, was collaborating with Hamas through weapons smuggling, explosives manufacturing, communications and logistical assistance, and hospitalization for injured fighters. ISIS officials frequently visit Gaza and attend “lavish banquets” at the homes of Hamas leaders, al-Muhajir alleged. Al-Muhajir asked al-Baghdadi to stop this collaboration because Hamas was insufficiently pure.

The letter was leaked to the group messaging app Telegram and discovered and translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute. A pro-ISIS media group responded with its own statement on Telegram, where they criticized al-Muhajir for airing the group’s dirty laundry, but never denied any of his specific claims.

Al-Muhajir listed five specific areas of cooperation in his letter:

1. Sinai province is smuggling weapons for Hamas in Gaza, because of the province’s fighters’ expert knowledge of the [smuggling] routes from Libya, Sudan, and Egypt.

2. Sinai province depends very much on Hamas and Al-Qassam [Hamas’ militia] for weapons and for explosives and ammunition. There are direct and continuous supply routes from Hamas to Sinai province. The Al-Qassam factories operate assembly lines for manufacturing explosive devices and bombs for the Sinai province, but do not stamp the Al-Qassam logo on them, as they usually do.

3. Sinai province leaders are regularly visiting the Gaza Strip, and holding cordial meetings with Hamas and Al-Qassam leaders, even [Hamas] government [representatives]. Animals are slaughtered for them, feasts are held, and they are embraced in Gaza.

4. Hamas and Al-Qassam are accepting all wounded Sinai province [fighters], and they are treated in Gaza Strip hospitals under Al-Qassam’s direct protection.

5. Hamas is providing wireless communication hubs for Sinai province, because of the difficulty of operating them in Sinai and because they are vulnerable to swift destruction by the Egyptian army.

Al-Muhajir also wrote that “Hamas and Sinai province are maintaining warm relations and direct lines of communication around the clock.” Many Palestinians have crossed the border into Egypt to fight for Sinai Province, but when those fighters die in battles against the Egyptian army, ISIS claims that they have died fighting for other ISIS branches in Syria or Libya, so as not to embarrass the Palestinian terror group by creating more honorable martyrs.

The close ties between ISIS and Hamas were especially concerning for al-Muhajir because of Hamas’ severe crackdown on competing jihadist groups within Gaza. “One of the province leaders is in the lap of Hamas luxury in Gaza, doing as he pleases and travelling to the homes of Hamas and Al-Qassam leaders, and enjoying their food at lavish banquets, while a few hundred meters away, Islamic State supporters are tortured in Hamas prisons, and their faces spat in, and are humiliated in in the worst way because of their loyalty and support for the Islamic State,” al-Muahjir wrote.

In response, the pro-ISIS media group al-Nusra al-Maqdisiya was critical of al-Muhajir in their own Telegram post, writing, “Any Islamic State soldier should address any complaint to the relevant bodies and committees, without resorting to the internet!…The Caliph does not accept letters and complaints from his soldiers via the Internet!”

Reports on the close ties between Hamas and ISIS’ Sinai chapter have been surfacing for nearly a year. IDF officials confirmed last July, and again last month, that Hamas was providing ISIS with weapons and logistical support, and even smuggled wounded ISIS fighters into Gaza hospitals. ISIS-Sinai Province leader Shadi al-Manei reportedly met with Hamas leaders in Gaza in December. And after a series of military gains against the Egyptian military, intelligence sources in Cairo revealed in December that Hamas was buying tens of thousands of dollars worth of weapons from ISIS every month (possibly using the suitcases of cash that it has reportedly been receiving from Iran).

The widening coordination between the terrorist organizations echoes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s observation in his 2014 speech to the United Nations General Assembly that “ISIS and Hamas are branches of the same poisonous tree.”

Arik Agassi wrote in The Tower Magazine in January that ISIS-Sinai Province “has become one of the most powerful, dangerous, and effective in the region,” largely due to Iranian support via its proxy, Hamas.

The Iran-Hamas-ISIS axis is part of Iran’s strategy of using proxy forces against U.S. allies like Egypt and Israel as part of a larger strategy to achieve hegemony over the Middle East. This has resulted in one of the region’s best kept secrets: An intensive cooperation mechanism between Iran, Hamas, and ISIS, based on money, weapons, military equipment, and training.

Iran’s foreign policy goal of hegemony over the Middle East is based on its primary ideological pillar – exporting the Islamic Revolution to other countries using terrorism and political subversion. In pursuing its ambitions, Iran has often put aside its religious differences with radical Sunni groups like ISIS and Hamas. The Islamic Republic is more than willing to cooperate with these groups as long as doing so helps promote its larger interests.

“By directly supporting Hamas in Gaza and indirectly supporting ISIS in the Sinai, Iran is able to gain foothold against Israel and Egypt to destabilize them, undermine America’s regional influence, create another Iranian power base in a Sunni-dominated region, and project its power and influence in its pursuit of regional hegemony,” Major (res.) Dan Feferman, a former senior IDF intelligence officer and Iran specialist, told the Tower. When asked why Iran would indirectly fund a serious rival such as ISIS, Feferman said that Lebanon, Iraq, and especially Syria are more important to Iran than the Sinai, as Iran wants to preserve its influence in states affected by the Syrian civil war – so Iran fights ISIS in those counties. In places where Iran does not have a strong influence, such as Egypt, it feels comfortable supporting ISIS, albeit indirectly.