Intrigue in Gaza


Against a background of terror attacks on Israelis at Mombasa, Kenya, and on Jerba Island, off the Tunisian coast, Ariel Sharon and Israeli intelligence have been loudly complaining about efforts by Lebanese Al Qaeda operatives to recruit Palestinians in Gaza.

But Gaza security official Rashi Abu Sba accuses the Israeli security service—yes, the Israelis—of tricking Palestinians into conducting missions in the name of Al Qaeda. The Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz conducted an interview with a young man called Ibrahim, who spoke behind a mask and described such an operation. After placing a personals ad with photo and phone number in East Jerusalem’s Posta, a culture and entertainment magazine, Ibrahim got a phone call from an older man who introduced himself as a merchant named Ahmed. The merchant said Ibrahim’s picture reminded him of his son, and they spoke on the phone several times, with Ahmed inquiring about Ibrahim’s background and if he was a devout Muslim. Ibrahim told him he’d never been arrested and wasn’t involved in any political organization.

As Ha’aretz reported, the conversations took a serious turn, and Ahmed expressed interest in helping Gazans “in economic distress” and began sending money to Ibrahim. Then, in one of the conversations, Ahmed revealed that he was working for Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda organization, and that Ibrahim was meant to be one of its organizers in northern Gaza since the group already had an infrastructure in the south. Ahmed sent Ibrahim a list of people, mostly Hamas activists, and Ibrahim was asked to gather information on them and to follow them so they too could be recruited into Al Qaeda.

Eventually, Ibrahim grew suspicious and told the story to a Gaza security official. After investigation, the security officer told Ibrahim that Ahmed was an Israeli agent and that Ibrahim should cut off all contact with him.

Palestinians insist that such a tale is not unusual and that they had reported it to top-level U.S. security officials. Publicly, however, there have been only repeated inferences by U.S. officials that Al Qaeda was recruiting foreign fighters from Gaza, among other places.

Additional reporting: Ashley Glacel and Sheelah Kolhatkar