Has ISIS Infiltrated the West Bank?

The pamphlet claiming responsibility for the kidnappings doesn't seem to have come from the Salafi group now terrorizing Iraq and Syria. But maybe a local cell decided to claim affiliation with ISIS to inspire fear.

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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ISIS militants near the central Iraqi city of Tikrit.
ISIS militants near the central Iraqi city of Tikrit.
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

A pamphlet supposedly issued by the Islamist State in Iraq and Syria and circulated around Hebron, claiming responsibility for the kidnapping of three Israelis in the West Bank, raises some doubts.

That the group has a branch in Gaza was suspected two years ago, when one of the Salafi-jihadi groups there presented itself as an ISIS. More suspicions arose when in November 2013 three ISIS agents were killed in the Hebron area. The three were mentioned by name in Friday's pamphlet, which said the kidnapping was to avenge their deaths.

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But marking the pamphlet as "Pamhplet number 1 might mean that so far the group was not behind any memorable operations. According to the pamphlet, the kidnapping has a specific aim: Vengence for its fallen comrades and support for the hungerstriking Palestinian detainees. But the pamphlet makes no broad ideological statement for the liberation of Palestine or for resistance to the occupation. The pamphlet differs from ISIS and Al-Qaida pamphlets which are usually adorned by Quran verses, religious rulings and quotations from Osama bin Laden or other top group members. The only verse which appears on "Pamphlet number 1" seems to have been photocopied together with the ISIS logo. Furthermore, while the logo carries the official name of the ISIS, the name which appears at the bottom of the pamphlet is appended with "Palestine, the West Bank," as if it was printed separately.

But the doubts as to the veracity of the pamphlet do not erase the possibility that a new, unknown organization, or perhaps an already existing one, has adopted the ISIS name, which has managed to inspire organizations in Arab countries and in the Palestinian territories due to its successes in Syria and in Iraq. A similar case occurred two years ago, when Palestinian groups carried out operations under the banner of the Nusra Front, which rose to prominence in the Syrian civil war as the leader of the Islamist rebels. At the time, the Nusra Front released a statement denying it was behind any of these operations. Other groups operating in Sinai and Gaza such as Ansar Beit al-Maqdas claim affiliation to Al-Qaida, while Arab governments sometimes term Salafi groups in their territories as Al-Qaida to legitimize their suppression.

But Salafi groups are not homogenous. Some have nothing to do with jihad or politics, and their actions are limited to scholarship and religious rulings. Others make forays into politics, but don't pursue violence. The Salafi-jihadists, however, reject politics and see violent struggle as the only path to salvation. Mohamed Nairukh, one of the three ISIS agents killed in the West Bank two years ago, was probably of the last category. Expelled from the ranks of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades due to his radical religious beliefs and objection to Hamas' political involvement, he joined the Salafi-jihadists while imprisoned in Israel.

These groups usually operate within very small cells, without headquarters or regional leadership. They don't preach their message and make no attempt to collect funds from the public. These reasons make tracking them down especially difficult.

The pamphlet

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