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  • Al Qaeda and Gaza
    Al Qaeda and Gaza
"Helping Gaza and fighting for the freedom of Al-Aqsa is the duty of every Muslim." Maulana Muhammad Muthana Hassan, ideologue of Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), breaks a silence that has lasted for more than six years to issue a statement in Urdu to his followers and all Muslims of goodwill. In the eleven published pages (summarizing has never been the prerogative of jihadi ideologues), Hassan addresses the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas: praising the brothers in Gaza for the brilliant Oct. 7 operation, criticizing the international community for its failure to support the Palestinians, calling young Muslims living between Pakistan and Afghanistan to arms, but, most importantly, calling on Muslims living in the West to carry out attacks in response to the support given by the aforementioned West to Israeli military operations. Hassan's ideological rant is, in fact, only the latest in a series of communiqués sent out by the date-for-space Al Qaeda since Oct. 7. The group's leadership has celebrated the Hamas attack as a historic triumph for global jihad, one that exposes Western and Israeli vulnerabilities. In a joint statement released online, al Qaeda's branches in North Africa and West Africa, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM), respectively, had already praised the Palestinian assault on Israel, encouraging not only Hamas but also "the lions of the West Bank" to "continue, gritting your teeth with patience, on the path of jihad" and to "finish what you have started," before calling on all Muslims around the world to actively support the Palestinian cause. And Hurras al-Din, the Al Qaeda arm in Syria, also promptly urged its affiliates, and Muslims all, to join the jihad of their Palestinian brothers and sisters. Al Qaeda's 'expansionist' stance and temptation to reassert its role in global jihad by exploiting the Hamas operation has also been reinforced by the adhesions to the organization's agenda by Islamic Maghreb groups-Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin and al-Shabaab. On the other hand, while it is true that al-Qaeda and Hamas diverge on affiliations, tactics, and goals, and that tensions and clashes between the two groups are long-standing, it is also true that the relationship between al-Qaeda and Hamas has gradually evolved, passing through phases of cooperation as well as conflict. At the heart of this relationship is a delicate balance between strategic pragmatism and the uncompromising commitment of both to ideological principles. But most importantly, as the world was reminded by the hundreds of delusional students on Tik Tok praising bin Laden's infamous 'letter' to America, the so-called 'Palestinian issue' has also always been part of Al Qaeda's agenda: which is now leveraging the cause to rally support, reinvigorate its base and return to international prominence. Despite the bombastic statements of supporters of the Doha agreement, in fact, the return of the Taliban to Kabul has reinvigorated al-Qaeda's operations in Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda commanders have returned to the country, and the group's training camps are now operational in five provinces. In Nuristan province, the camps actively train new suicide bombers. Not only that. According to Mohammad Moheq, editor of the Egyptian daily Hasht-e-Subh, "Afghanistan is an integral part of the radical Islamist narrative." Afghan Peace Watch, an independent research organization, reported that American weapons abandoned during the 2021 pullout were found in the Gaza Strip, Indian Kashmir, and Pakistan. U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Mike McCaul said he had "indications that the Taliban want to liberate Jerusalem to fight the Zionists." And Moheq, like other analysts, believes that more than 100 Taliban have already been sent to Gaza. Al Qaeda and Hamas leaders were, after all, among the first to congratulate the Taliban on their victory in 2021. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh had telephoned Abdul Ghani Baradar to tell him that the end of the U.S. "occupation" was "a prelude to the demise of all occupation forces, first and foremost the Israeli occupation of Palestine." Perhaps we would do well to remember that.