Five Dead in Netanya Suicide Bombing; Islamic Jihad Claims Responsibility

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At least five people are dead and more than 50 injured after a suicide bomber struck at a shopping mall in the coastal Israeli city of Netanya at 11:30 A.M. today. Islamic Jihad (IJ), an offshoot of Hamas closely tied with Iran, claimed responsibility for the attack, the third at this particular mall in the past three years.

The suicide bomber that carried out the attack was Lotfi Abu Saada, a resident of Illar village located north of the West Bank town of Tulkaram.

Islamic Jihad, also known as Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), is one out of seven Palestinian groups that is listed as a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department. [1] This group is responsible for more than 40 attacks that have left over 100 Israelis dead. Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has refused to disarm groups such as PIJ and Hamas, even though such militant organizations pose the greatest competition against his Fatah party in the upcoming PA election on January 25.

Islamic Jihad is an organization strongly supported by both Syria and Iran. Damascus is home to PIJ’s headquarters and the Iranian government provides financial backing for their terrorist activities in Israel. [2] The Iranian-back Lebanese militia Hizbullah and Islamic Jihad have also worked closely together since the beginning of the 1987 Intifada. Since that time, a relationship has emerged between PIJ, Hamas and Iran, [3] which allows for Iran’s direct influence through the presence of Hizbullah in the Palestinian Territories. The Palestinian National Authority (PNA) designates [4] Islamic Jihad as a legitimate Palestinian political movement stating that this militant faction “Advocates armed struggle for the liberation of Palestine.” However, PIJ has declared it will not participate in the upcoming Palestinian election as long as Israel exists.

The ideology of PIJ, like that of Hamas and Hizbullah, calls for the destruction of the State of Israel, [5] opposition to the Oslo accords, and resistance against pro-western Arab countries. In addition, PIJ refuses to abide by the hudna (temporary cease-fire) that was coordinated by Egypt and Abbas in February 2005 among all of the Palestinian militant groups in order to temporarily cease terrorist attacks against Israel. Among the dozens of attacks that PIJ has perpetrated, perhaps the most notorious is the October 2003 attack on the Maxim restaurant in Haifa, in which 21 Israelis, both Jewish and Arab, were murdered and 60 wounded, including six members of a family spanning three generations.

Founded in the late 1970’s by Palestinian extremists living in Egypt, PIJ was forced into exile in Gaza after the assassination of Anwar Sadat in 1981. The organization was first led by Fathi Shaqaqi, a member of the Egyptian Muslim brotherhood who was later deemed too moderate to lead PIJ. It is one of several global Islamic Jihad groups, but is the most prominent in the Palestinian Territories. The PIJ’s religious doctrine is a mix of Sunni Islamic fundamentalism and Palestinian nationalism that focuses of Islamic unity, which cannot be achieved until “Israel is utterly annihilated and all of Palestine is liberated.” [6]

The attack in Netanya follows continued rocket and mortar attacks on Israel’s southern region by Hamas and Islamic Jihad cells operating out of the Gaza Strip.

For more on issues on the Northern border of Israel and Hamas please visit http://www.theisraelproject.org/backgrounders

[1] U.S. Department of State, “U.S. identifies 7 Palestinian groups as foreign terrorist organizations,” Palestinian Media Center, Oct. 19, 2004, http://www.palestine-pmc.com/details.asp?cat=11&id=87

[2] “Who are Islamic Jihad,” BBC News, Aug. 9, 2001, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/1005081.stm

[3] Brackman, Nicole, “Palestinian refugees in Lebanon: A new source of cross-border tension?” The Institute for Counter-Terrorism, June 1, 2000, http://www.ict.org.il/articles/articledet.cfm?articleid=111

[4] “Government: Islamic Jihad Movement,” Palestinian National Authority, http://www.pna.gov.ps/Government/gov/Islamic_Jihad_Movement.asp

[5] “The leading Palestinian terrorist organizations,” Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, Aug. 2004, http://www.intelligence.org.il/eng/sib/8_04/pto.htm

[6] “Group profile: Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ),” MIPT Terrorism Knowledge Base, http://www.tkb.org/Group.jsp?groupID=82

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