Reports of cooperation between Hamas in Gaza and ISIS in the Sinai Peninsula are nothing new, but a recently-obtained letter from one ISIS jihadist reveals just how deeply those ties stretch – and that not all of Islamic State's supporters are particularly enamored with it.
A letter posted to social media by a Gaza-born ISIS fighter now in Syria named "Abu Abdallah Al-Muhajir" excoriates ISIS's Sinai affiliate – "Sinai Province" – for, in the author's view, betraying fellow ISIS supporters inside Gaza itself.
He accuses Sinai Province leaders of forging close personal and strategic relationships with Hamas even while the rulers of Gaza arrest and torture Gazan ISIS-affiliated jihadists, in comments translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI).
Al-Muhajir addresses his letter to the Islamic State's self-proclaimed "Caliph" himself, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and appeals to his leader to act to end ties between the groups. These include mutual weapons smuggling, production of explosives, and Hamas medical treatment for wounded ISIS fighters – who are placed under the protection of members of Hamas's Ezzadine al-Qassam Brigades. Even Sinai Province's military uniforms are manufactured by Hamas in Gaza, according to Al-Muhajir.
He described lavish feasts held in honor of Sinai Province leaders, hosted by senior Hamas officials, and expressed his anger over how Egyptian ISIS leaders have accepted the "embrace" of Hamas – whose Muslim Brotherhood ideology is seen as heresy by ISIS.
"We find that for the sake of worldly honor which Hamas gives it, the Sinai province has sold its religion," he laments. "This is embodied by Sinai Province’s disregard of the cruel war that Hamas is waging against the supporters of the Islamic State. Sinai province does not even [dare] threaten or warn Hamas over its ongoing abuse of Islamic State supporters."
Noting the dissonance between this behavior and the approach of ISIS's central leadership towards Hamas, he said: "After a period of being in Syria, I have learned that the Islamic State considers Hamas, with all its branches and wings, to be an apostate movement, and that it treats it as an apostate cult, including Al-Qassam [Brigades]."
"If these things continue and persist, we will all regret the disaster [that will befall] us in the beloved land of Sinai, which is the most important and powerful [Islamic] State province outside Iraq and Syria."
The letter also sheds some light on the relationship between ISIS and some several hundred Salafi jihadists in Gaza who have sworn loyalty to the "caliphate."
While Sinai Province has been recognized by ISIS as an official branch, none of the Gazan factions have direct, formal relations with ISIS – though they have sent many recruits to fight for ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Citing a fellow ISIS jihadi from Gaza, Al-Muhajir claims Hamas interrogators regularly mock ISIS detainees by boasting that Hamas's ties with the Islamic State are stronger than their own.
"One senior official in the apostate Hamas internal security would torture and ridicule Salafi jihad fighters, saying: 'Our relations, in Hamas, with Sinai Province are stronger and better than yours with Sinai Province,'" he claimed.
"This is true and very real," he acknowledged. "Hamas and Sinai province are maintaining warm relations and direct lines of communication around the clock."
But more than that, he stated, "I know that Sinai province has severed ties with all the Salafi jihad fighters in the Gaza Strip, and is attempting to cut anything connecting it to them, so as not to sour the relations with Hamas and ruin the relationship between them."
Turning to al-Baghdadi, he appealed: "Oh sheikh of ours: Hamas is clever and is giving Sinai province everything it wants, so that it [Hamas] can gain a foothold in [Sinai], and so that it will have ‘stock’ in the province, and so that it will be able to protect itself against anything the province might do against it.
"They [Hamas’s leaders] are clever, oh sheikh – they give table scraps to the province…. Hamas knows that no one but Sinai Province can help the Salafis in Gaza, and has therefore taken possession of it, and has thus kept it away from the crimes being carried out in Gaza against the supporters of the Islamic State."
He further noted that the issue was causing great anger among Salafists in Gaza, and possibly opening up a split between them and Sinai Province next door.
"One of the brothers who recently came from Gaza to Syria said that the hearts of Islamic State supporters in Gaza are filled with rage and shock at the actions of Sinai Province," he recounted.
"For example, how can they accept that 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 the worst way because of their loyalty and support for the Islamic State – of which Sinai is one of its most important provinces?"