Islamic Jihad is a small terrorist group with a violent past. It espouses the ideology that the destruction of Israel and any Western influences in the Middle East will lead to the liberation of Palestine and the convergence of the Arab and Muslim countries into one great Islamic state. The members of the group believe the way to accomplish this is via jihad, or holy war.
Islamic Jihad, also known as Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Harakat al-Jihad al-Islami al-Filastini, was formed in 1979. It was started by three radical Palestinian students, Fathi Shikaki, Abdul Aziz Odeh, and Bashir Moussa, who were studying in Egypt. They formed the group after deciding that the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood in the Gaza Strip was too moderate for them. In 1981, Islamic Jihad was expelled from Egypt by the government when it was discovered the group had close ties to the assassins of President Saddat. The group relocated to the Gaza Strip. It was during this time that Islamic Jihad commenced terrorist attacks in Gaza.
In 1988, Shikaki and Odeh were expelled from Gaza and went to Lebanon. Once in Lebanon, Shakiki reorganized and strengthened Islamic Jihad’s ties with Hizballah in Iran. The terror campaign continued, and in 1990 Islamic Jihad attacked a tour bus in Egypt that killed 11 people, including 9 Israelis. In October 1995, Fathi Shikaki, one of the founding members, was murdered in Malta. He was replaced by Dr. Ramadan Abdallah Shalah, a Palestinian who lived in the United States before assuming the leadership role. Shallah’s lack of charisma and organizational skills have diminished Islamic Jihad’s reputation among other terrorist groups in the region. This change in leadership, however, did not stop the terror campaign. In March of 1996, the group claimed responsibility for suicide bombings in Tel Aviv which killed 20 people and wounded more than 75. Islamic Jihad’s main base is in Damascus, and it receives it’s financial backing from there and Iran. The group also has offices in Beirut, Tehran, and Khartoum.
Since the beginning of the most recent intifada, the group has staged a number of suicide attacks in Israel, including 15 car bombings which killed 25 and wounded close to 400. Islamic Jihad has strengthened it’s power by forming associations with other groups and terrorists. Initially, Hamas was a rival of Islamic Jihad. But shortly after the formation of the Palestinian Authority in 1994, Hamas adopted the strategy of suicide attacks and the groups began coordinating attacks.
Over the past decade, Islamic Jihad has claimed responsibility for attacks against American interests in other countries. The group has staged attacks in Jordan, Lebanon, and Egypt. In 1993, an Islamic Jihad member successfully executed an attack on American soil. Ramzi Yousef, along with a cell of terrorists, drove a truck full of explosives into a parking garage of the World Trade Center and detonated it. Six Americans were killed and more than 1,000 were injured. Yosef was later apprehended in Pakistan and brought back to the United States for prosecution. He received a life sentence for the attack.
Islamic Jihad has also been active in al-Qaida. In fact, according to a November 2001 article in the New York Times, Islamic Jihad members made up the core of Osama bin Laden’s organization. This relationship began in the early 1990’s with a number of veterans of the war in Afghanistan. As al-Qaida expanded, the Islamic Jihad members helped recruit members who were gifted in areas such as marksmanship, military planning, and forgery. Al-Qaida also began to work toward a goal similar to that of Islamic Jihad, which was the creation of an Islamic state. According to experts quoted in this article, the way in which the attacks of September 11th were carried out mirror most Islamic Jihad operations in that it was a suicide mission against a symbolic target. The main goal was to kill as many people as possible. By the end of 2001, close to 200 of Osama bin Laden’s top people were members of Islamic Jihad. Included in this group were Ayman al-Zawahiri and Mohammed Atef, who were top leaders and planners within al-Qaida.
Shortly after the commencing of hostilities in Iraq, Islamic Jihad announced its support for Saddam Hussein. Islamic Jihad’s support for Saddam is directly related to Saddam’s support of the Palestinians in Israel. Since the beginning of the latest Intifada in Israel, Saddam has given more than$35 million to the families of men and women who killed themselves in suicide attacks. He has also given money to the families of Palestinian bystanders who died in the attacks. Islamic Jihad expressed it’s appreciation for Saddam by staging a suicide attack in Israel. The group claimed responsibility for a March 30th suicide bombing at a crowded pedestrian mall in the Israeli costal town of Netanya. Islamic Jihad said it was "a gift to the heroic people of Iraq". In addition, the group announced it was sending suicide bombers to Iraq to help fight what it called the "American invasion."
The main reason why Islamic Jihad is supporting Iraq is because the group views the Palestinian situation in Israel as identical to Iraq’s situation with the United States. According to Nafez Azzam, the Islamic Jihad leader in Gaza and the West Bank, "The Islamic Jihad movement is interested in intensifying attacks in this phase to make it clear to Arabs, Muslims, and the whole world that what is going on here in Palestine is the same as what is happening in Iraq." This viewpoint is one example of how Islamic Jihad skews the facts to match it’s warped sense of reality. There is absolutely nothing in common with the two situations.
Whether it occurs in Afghanistan, Iraq, or Israel, each mission carried out by Islamic Jihad is done so in the name of "jihad", which means holy war. That is the definition according to them. But some religious groups and scholars say organizations like Islamic Jihad have missed the true meaning of the term. This subject was explored in a recent FrontPageMagazine.com article by John Perazzo. According to Reverend Stephen Van Kuiken of Mt. Auburn Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati, "The term jihad is often distorted to mean ‘holy war,’ but it has a deeper meaning….the struggle with our own selves. Literally, it means, ‘exertion’ or ‘to struggle…." Religious scholar and professor Dr. John Kaltner says that the term jihad, "comes from an Arabic root whose primary sense refers to an act of putting forth effort to achieve some objective, [such as] the effort each person must exert in order to live his or her life as a good Muslim and avoid the temptation of sin." Dr. Kaltner does point out, however, that violence in the name of jihad is allowed if it is for the purpose of self-defense.
Mr. Perazzo concludes that these definitions are sugarcoated and only serve the purpose of promoting the falsehood that terrorist attacks and calls for jihad in the Arab world are a response to U.S. foreign policies regarding Israel. He provides definitions from various Middle Eastern sources to illustrate jihad’s true meaning. One such source is the online magazine Al-Ansar, which explains, "The importance of the human effort to annihilate the infidels…is what Allah sought to teach the Muslims…Jihad is the way of torturing [the infidels] at our hands…with killing."
For the purpose of discussion, it is possible to assert a different conclusion. It can be concluded that the radicals in the Islamic world are the ones who misunderstand the true meaning of jihad. For if the true meaning of jihad is to wage holy war against all non-Muslims, then why didn’t the rest of the Muslim world answer the call from Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein? There were not massive, world wide attacks following the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan. The people of Iraq did not rise up and fight the "American invaders". Most of the radical groups like Islamic Jihad recruit members from areas where illiteracy and poverty run rampant. Ramzi Yousef himself stated that his motivation for the World Trader Center attack was not religious. According to an article by the Monterey Institute for International Studies, Yousef wanted revenge against the United States for its participation in the Middle East peace process. He claimed his main motivation was to lead an "anti-occupation crusade against Israel and its main supporter, the United States."
Islamic Jihad is a radical group with radical ideas that do not mirror those of the greater Muslim world. It claims jihad as its motivation, but its true motivation is anti-American and anti-Israel. It is for this reason that Islamic Jihad will never succeed in waging the holy war it desires.