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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chaos in Gaza Nurtures The Seeds of Al-Qaida

GAZA STRIP -- A man sits alone, clad in red by his captors, addressing the camera. The Internet video is adorned with the symbols of radical Islam. So far, so familiar.

But this is not Iraq or Afghanistan. This is Gaza, and last week's posting showing kidnapped BBC correspondent Alan Johnston highlighted the emergence of shadowy groups in the Palestinian enclave that draw, at the very least, inspiration from al-Qaida.

The relationship is hazy between the hitherto unknown Army of Islam, which says it seized the British journalist three months ago, and dozens of other armed groups in Gaza driven by a mix of politics, religion, moneymaking and clan rivalries.

But dozens of attacks this year on Internet cafes, Christian sites, barbers and other symbols of "immorality" have raised fears of ever more embittered anarchy in a crowded territory where security forces have been riven by factional conflict since taking over control from Israeli troops in 2005.

Some Palestinian officials blame the radicalization of some of Gaza's 1.4 million people on poverty and despair deepened by sanctions imposed by Israel and Western powers last year after the Islamist Hamas movement won a parliamentary election.

On Friday, a group that emerged this year, the Righteous Swords of Islam, threatened to "slit the throats" of women presenters on Palestine Television if they do not cover their hair: "The corruption that is coming from their mouths and their faces ... raises fears for the future of our children," it said.

Along with the organization al-Qaida in Palestine and other mysterious groups, the Swords have claimed several bomb attacks.

Though Palestinians in the somewhat more fortunate West Bank have seen less violence -- despite scattered al-Qaida-style propaganda -- recent attention has also been focused on al-Qaida links among Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, where troops are fighting the Fatah Islam group in a refugee camp near Nahr al-Bared.

As elsewhere in the Middle East, the propaganda of holy war has been popular among Gaza's youth for years -- market stalls do brisk business in recordings of speeches by Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the late al-Qaida in Iraq leader.

In recent months, however, radical words have become deeds, although it remains unclear how far this reflects direct outside influence in Gaza and how far local groups have simply been inspired by the teachings of bin Laden and others.

About 50 attacks in recent months have damaged Internet cafes, stores selling television satellite dishes, barber shops and pharmacies as well as a church and other Christian sites.

Israel's "siege" of Gaza and the aid embargo have helped to "push some youngsters into adopting weird ideas," said Khaled Abu Hilal, a spokesman for the Palestinian Interior Ministry.

He did not believe a direct link to a wider al-Qaida network yet existed.

But a security source, on the other hand, said some militants linked to al-Qaida may have managed to enter Gaza from Egypt last year but were not fully operational.

"Maybe they are not able to communicate with the official al-Qaida bodies outside and also they may not have the capabilities to act," he said.