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Interview: Salafi leader offers to help fight extremism

Aug. 7, 2012 3:11 A.M. (Updated: Aug. 20, 2012 12:04 A.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- Salafis are ready to help Egyptian authorities fight terrorism by raising youth awareness, a leading Salafi intellectual in Gaza said Tuesday.

Iyad al-Shami told Ma'an that Salafis were not involved in Sunday's attack on a Sinai police station in which 16 Egyptian officers were killed. He condemned the attack and called for its perpetrators to be punished.

He said Salafis were ready to help Egypt in its fight against terrorism by educating the youth against extremism. The main goal of the brazen raid was to destabilize Egyptian relations with Palestinians, al-Shami added.

Salafism preaches a moderate approach and forbids killing, al-Shami said, but some Salafis who lack education in the faith have adopted perverted beliefs which accept killing and theft.

"These are not Salafis," al-Shami said.

Salafi groups emerged in Palestine in the 1980s, spread in mosques by preachers who had studied in the Gulf, but their reach has been limited and most chose Hamas or Islamic Jihad over Salafist groups.

They fall into two groups -- the dawa Salafis who spread their beliefs through teaching, and the jihadis, mostly based in Gaza, who use force to defend and spread their faith, including Tawhid wa Jihad, Ansar al-Sunna, Jaysh al-Ummah, and Jund Ansarullah.

The shift of the Hamas movement from resistance to politics at a time when al-Qaida was declaring war on "infidels" prompted some Salafis in Palestine to turn from dawa to jihad. The armed clashes between Hamas and Fatah in 2006 brought more recruits to jihadi Salafism.

Gradually, the jihadi Salafis formed armed groups in Gaza that have claimed responsibility for attacks against Israel as well as attacks against coffee shops, Internet cafes, women's hairdressers and Christian organizations.

These attacks were largely ignored at the height of the fighting between Hamas and Fatah but Hamas has cracked down on militant Salafists since it took control of Gaza in 2007.

In 2009, Hamas raided a mosque and killed 28 people after a Salafi imam declared an Islamic emirate in Gaza.

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