UNRWA operates 59 refugee camps for Palestinian Arab 1948 refugees and their descendents and is supported by direct contributions from 38 nations around the world under the framework of the Refugee Working Group (RWG) chaired by Canada. Canada provides 11 percent of the UNRWA budget, while the United States provides 31 percent. Al-Qaida’s influence in refugee camps could be concerning with strict laws in the U.S. Canada and other donor nations, which forbid financial donations to refugee camps that have become terror bases.
“If training and organization become available to these young people they have the potential to become a threat to not only the countries in which they reside, but to the region as a whole,” the report said.
The report documents that increasing al-Qaida presence has threatened the Western and United Nations presence in Arab states. Jamestown said Palestinians were undergoing radicalization and adopting the al-Qaida doctrine of jihad, or holy war.
“Socio-political conditions in these camps, which have been under the control of the secular Palestinian political organizations, play an important role in increasing the influence of Salafism,” the report said.
Last year, al-Qaida chief Osama Bin Laden addressed the Palestinians at least three times and appealed for their participation in his Islamist war against the West. Mr. Bin Laden has urged Palestinians to fight the United States in Iraq before moving on to Israel.
“They should hasten to take their positions among the ranks of the holy warriors in Iraq, and through support and trust in Allah,” Mr. Bin Laden said in a recent message.
“The third phase is the emergence of the Salafi-Jihadi ideology as the primary ideology for Palestinian youth in the camps,” the report said. “This phase is occurring now, as individuals and small groups are increasingly turning to Salafist militancy.”
The biggest target of al-Qaida has been the UNRWA Palestinian refugee camp of Ein el-Hilweh, the largest of the camps in Lebanon. Ein el-Hilweh was said to harbor several al-Qaida figures, including Ahmed Abdul Karim Al Saadi,
Haitham Abdul Karim Al Saadi and Saleh Qiblawi. Mr. Haitham Al Saadi was identified as a deputy of the late al-Qaida network chief in Iraq, Abu Mussib Al Zarqawi.
In Syria, Palestinian followers of al-Qaida clashed with Syrian security forces in October 2008. The unrest was said to have taken place in Syria’s largest UNRWA refugee camp, Yarmouk.
“When Syria became a transit point for Syrian and Arab fighters aiming to take up jihad against Americans between 2003 and 2007, there were several cases of young fighters passing through Yarmouk camp,” the report said.
Jamestown also reported an al-Qaida presence in Jordan’s UNRWA Baqaa refugee camp. The UNRWA Irbid camp, located near the Syrian border, was also deemed an al-Qaida stronghold.
“The ties between the Salafi-Jihadis across the Levant region show that some young men in the UNRWA refugee camps are inspired and influenced by the late Abu Musab Al Zarqawi’s ambition of creating a Levantine Salafi-Jihadi movement,” the report said.
David Bedein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.