|Sheikh Omar Hadid Brigade|
|Participant in the Palestinian political violence and the Gaza–Israel conflict|
|Active||2 April 2015–Present|
|Area of operations||Palestinian Territories|
|Strength||200 (backed by 2000+ supporters)|
|Part of||Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant|
|Originated as||Al-Qaeda (then ISIL in 2014)|
The Islamist militant group “Sheikh Omar Hadid Brigade“(الشيخ اللواء عمر حديد in Arabic), previously known (although still referred to) as a brigade of “Ansar Bait al-Maqdis” (a group more recently calling itself “Al Dalwa Al-Islamia“, as of late 2014) is a known affiliate of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, active in the Palestinian Territories. Its aims have consistently matched those of the Islamic State, in that the group aims to establish the Levant caliphate, otherwise known as “al-Sham“, with the ultimate aim of the organization being the destruction of the State of Palestine, ensued by the destruction of the State of Israel and the expulsion and elimination of all Jewish inhabitants and other ethno-religious ‘infidels’, such as the Druze, Bahá’í, Shia and Christian populations, living within the area.
The group’s official faction leader wasn’t known until Hamas Police raided the home of Yunis Hunnar on June 2, 2015,who was accused of leading the Sheikh Omar Hadid Brigade and was shot dead when resisting arrest. The present faction leader is currently unknown.
The Sheikh Omar Hadid Brigade in Palestine[edit source]
Unlike most other Palestinian Islamist groups, the Sheikh Omar Hadid Brigade does not believe in any sort of Palestinian nationalism, since its affiliation to ISIL advocates the rule of caliphate rather than nationality. The socio-political and geopolitical ideology of the Sheikh Omar Hadid Brigade can hence be defined as Pan-Islamist rather than Pan-Nationalist (in the patriotic sense), since it works towards (see Pan-Islamism Wikipedia page for more details):
“…a form of religious nationalism [that] differentiates itself from other pan-nationalistic ideologies, for example Pan-Arabism, by excluding culture and ethnicity as primary factors towards unification…”
The Sheikh Omar Hadid Brigade is a small Islamist and Salafist militant group based in the West Bank of Palestine, which was first taken note of during the Syrian Civil War. The war in Syria started with rebel factions, that ultimately split off into the FSA and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), an organization that itself originated from AQI, a branch of Al-Qaeda. Like ISIL, the Sheikh Omar Hadid Brigade also evolved from a former Al-Qaeda branch, which called itself the “Army of Islam“, possibly out of inspiration. Its affiliation to ISIL was only claimed by the group alone, and was hereby unofficial, until ISIL eventually declared on July 9, 2014 that they were “operating in Gaza”. At the time, the Sheikh Omar Hadid Brigade was not yet formed as a brigade or group, which is why it had often (incorrectly) been ‘blurred out’ by many as part of the Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine.
Its emergence as a group followed dozens of arrests carried out by the ruling political and militant group Hamas in the Gaza Strip, in a crack down by Hamas on possible Islamic State affiliate groups and Jihadists in the area. The crack down began in early 2015, but heavily intensified during the months of April and May that year.
However, the crackdown is not regarded as a prime reason for the recent spike in Sheikh Omar Hadid Brigade members. Earlier in 2015, during the Battle of Yarmouk Camp in Syria, various Hamas-linked Palestinian rebel factions were attacked by ISIL, and over 2000 Palestinian refugees under the protection of these factions were forced to flee the area. This may consequentially have had an influence on various Islamists in Palestine, who no longer believed in Hamas’ legitimate authority due to its defeat in Yarmouk.
Moreover, the ISIL offensive in Yarmouk was particularly humiliating for Hamas, when a senior Hamas official, Sheikh Abu Salah Taha, was reportedly beheaded by the ISIL militants. It is thought that the Sheikh Omar Hadid Brigade, which was then known in the general media as “Islamic State in Gaza”, took advantage of these events to boost its own agenda in Palestine.
Structure, Affiliation and Military[edit source]
The Sheikh Omar Hadid Brigade said in a statement, released in aftermath of the Hamas crackdown in May 2015, that “In the light of Hamas’ new crackdown, we renew our loyalty to ISIS Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and call on him to strengthen his influence and to launch a campaign in Palestine,” emphasising its affiliation to ISIL.
The group is deemed a direct affiliate of the Ansar Bait al-Maqdis organization (which reportedly changed its name to “Al Dalwa Al-Islamia” following its pledge of allegiance to IS in November 2014, although is still commonly referred and often self-proclaimed as its former name), a Jihadist group based in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula, although it was previously thought that clashes between Syrian ISIL and Ansar Bait al-Maqdis militants during the Battle of Yarmouk Camp, that resulted in the death of 15 Ansar Bait al-Maqdis fighters, might have brought the Sheikh Omar Hadid Brigade to distance itself from its latter affiliate. This was later proven to be incorrect on June 2, 2015, when new evidence showed that one of Ansar Bait al-Maqdis’ brigades was in fact the self-proclaimed Sheikh Omar Hadid Brigade. On June 2, Ansar Bait al-Maqdis, the Sinai-based Jihadist and Salafist group, claimed responsibility for a rocket attack on central Israel (from Gaza) that had been carried out the previous week, and also claimed responsibility for the assassination of Siam (see later), on behalf of the Sheikh Omar Hadid brigade. This new development provided the conclusive evidence that the Sheikh Omar Hadid Brigade was in fact much more strongly affiliated to Ansar Bait al-Maqdis than previously thought, and that the brigade the group described as the “Army of the Islamic State” was in fact another name for the self-proclaimed “Sheikh Omar Hadid Brigade”. This suggested that the Sheikh Omar Hadid Brigade could in fact have individualised itself more in recent months from the Ansar Bait al-Maqdis group, possibly under the influence of Ansar Bait al-Maqdis other ally, ISIL (relations between the groups were reaffirmed once again following the conflict at Yarmouk), becoming a separate group of its own rather than remaining as one of the former’s brigades. This information itself suggests the possibility of a Syria-Gaza-Sinai axis amongst the three groups (being; ISIL, Sheikh Omar Hadid Brigade and Ansar Bait al-Maqdis), which would explain the sudden increase in arms that the Sheikh Omar Hadid Brigade claimed to have obtained in recent months.
The Egyptian group from which the Sheikh Omar Hadid Brigade first originated from, Ansar Bait al-Maqdis, appears to have split-off into another recently individualised group, formerly known as “Ajnad Misr“ (Soldiers of Egypt) and presently known as “Sinai Province” or “Wilayat Sinai” (although still often referred to by the former), a Sinai-based group. The group’s former leader Humam Muhammed pledged full allegiance to ISIL in late 2014, thereby founding the new Ajnad Misr-originated Salafist group Sinai Province (although often rather confusingly referred to by the general Western media as “ISIS in Gaza“(also)), a group presently believed to be the Sheikh Omar Hadid Brigade’s arms-trade affiliate in the Sinai Peninsula. Following the leader’s assassination by Egyptian police forces on April 5, 2015, the group has become increasingly disbanded. Despite this, it has been gaining an increasing presence in the Gaza Strip, where members are thought to be working closely by the Sheikh Omar Hadid Brigade as previously mentioned. The Egyptian group is known to display identical ideologies to those the Sheikh Omar Hadid Brigade i.e. the targeting of national security forces (Hamas and Fatah officials in the case of the ASheikh Omar Hadid Brigade, and the Egyptian Armed Forces in the case of Sinai Province), followed by the establishment of the al-Sham caliphate(see Ajnad Misr Wikipedia page for more details). Both groups are amongst the many small, yet rapidly growing Gaza-Egyptian ISIL-affiliated groups, which some experts believe could eventually combine forces in the event of an Islamic State insurgency in the area, this possibly resulting in a cross-border civil war. However, due to Egyptian reinforcements along the Gazan border during June 2015, others have suggested that this wouldn’t be possible, at least during the near future.
Designation as a Terrorist Organization[edit source]
Taking into account the fact that the Sheikh Omar Hadid Brigade group had formerly been an active brigade of the Ansar Bait al-Maqdis group, as “Army of the Islamic State”, all international terrorist designations given to Ansar Bait al-Maqdis also apply to the Sheikh Omar Hadid Brigade, these having been given by; Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America (see Ansar Bait al-Maqdis for more details).
As of the official formation of the currently-known “Sheikh Omar Hadid Brigade group” in early April 2015, and currently now known to be a confirmed affiliate group of ISIL, all international terrorist designations given to ISIL also apply to the Sheikh Omar Hadid Brigade, these having been given by; the United Nations, the European Union,the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Australia, Canada, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia,Egypt, India, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, and Syria (see Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant for more details).
The Sheikh Omar Hadid Brigade, also thought to have had partially originated from or later morphed with an older ISIL-linked group, that called itself “The Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem“, was specifically designated a terrorist organisation by the United States of America, under this particular banner on August 19, 2014.
Involvement in Palestinian Civil Conflicts[edit source]
|Date of activity||Type||Success||Summary|
|May 8, 2015||Mortar attack||Failed||A group calling itself “Supporters of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in Jerusalem” launched a mortar attack on a Hamas base, close to Khan Yunis in southern Gaza. The group is presently thought to be the same group as the Sheikh Omar Hadid Brigade, merely proclaiming itself under a different banner.|
|May 31, 2015||Car-bomb attack||Successful||The Sheikh Omar Hadid Brigade carried out its first official attack on a high ranking Hamas commander, in a car bomb attack in Gaza. The Hamas commander, Saber Siam, was killed instantly by the blast. Following the event, ISIL further emphasised its affiliation to the group, in a message to Hamas, the group’s principle enemy (before Israel), which warned them of what was to come should they fail to stop the crack down. According to the Sheikh Omar Hadid Brigade, Siam was killed because he was “a partner in a declared war against religion and against Muslims, working for the heretical government in Gaza.” ISIL was quick to add on to these comments, by warning Hamas to immediately “end its war against religion in Gaza” or “face the consequences”.|
|June 26—8, 2015||Leaflet threats||Successful||One June 26, under the banner of “Islamic State in Palestine”, the Sheikh Omar Hadid Brigade distributed leaflets around East Jerusalem, containing threats towards Christians living in the West Bank. According to the Jewish Press, the leaflets contained threats “to kill all the Christian-Arabs living there [in East Jerusalem]”, and “explicit threats to kill the Christians [should they fail to] leave Eastern Jerusalem by the end of Ramadan“. Over the weekend of 27—8, the Sheikh Omar Hadid Brigade made further threats to local Arab Christians, and called upon like-minded zealots to identify “those who collaborate with the Zionists” and provide their addresses. These later leaflets were signed “The Islamic State – Emirate of Bayt al-Maqdis”. These threats were deemed as a substantial success for the Sheikh Omar Hadid Brigade, as it was reported in interviews that local Arab Christians felt “fearful for their lives and don’t want to go to the police because they feel that the police won’t be responsive” in the wake of the threats.|
Involvement in Israeli-Palestinian Conflicts[edit source]
|Date of activity||Type||Success||Summary|
|June 2—7, 2015||Rocket attacks||Partly successful||Following the assassination of the group’s local leader Yunis Hunnar on June 2, the Sheikh Omar Hadid Brigade claimed responsibility (under the banner of the “Omar Brigades”) for three separate rocket attacks on Israel (from Gaza), in an attempt likely aimed towards regaining its prior legitimacy. Although the rockets failed to cause any injury or structural damage, they prompted swift retaliatory responses from the Israeli Air Force ((IAF), during which strategic Salafi and Hamas-controlled military sites were targeted by Israeli air-strikes.|
|June 11, 2015||Rocket attack||Failed||Shortly after the June 2—7 attacks, the Sheikh Omar Hadid Brigade tried launching another rocket attack on Israel, although this time the rocket failed to reach its target and exploded in Gaza instead. Despite the fact that the Sheikh Omar Hadid Brigade later claimed responsibility for the attack, Israeli intelligence accused Islamic Jihad as responsible instead. No injuries or structural damage was reported.|
The Sheikh Omar Hadid Brigade is also known as; “Army of the Islamic State in Palestine” | “Islamic State in Gaza” | “Supporters of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in Jerusalem” | “Supporters of the Islamic State” | “Supporters of the Islamic State in Jerusalem” | “Islamic State in Palestine” | “Islamic State in Jerusalem” | “Supporters of the Al-Sham Caliphate” | “Army of the Islamic State” (former official name)