Magdalena Breyer, Chloe Woodbine, Kiara Alexander, Ignacio Minuesa, Victoria Valová, Ektoras Papadimitriou, Extremism Team
Brantley Williams Editor; Jennifer Loy, Chief Editor
October 26, 2023
The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) is issuing a FLASH ALERT to Israeli and global authorities, Jerusalem residents, and Jewish communities following Israeli’s alleged closure and desecration of Al-Aqsa Mosque and Hamas’ reactive calls for a global escalation of violence against “Nazi and terrorist Zionist aggression.” On October 24, Palestine News & Info Agency released an article alleging that the Israeli government closed the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem for Muslim worshipers and that police allowed “Jewish fanatics” to “walk around” the compound and “hold rituals” in violation of regulations that permit only the entrance of Muslims. Israeli police denied the allegations on X, claiming that the information being spread on “social networks in Arabic” is false. Very likely in response to the circulating allegations, the official Hamas Telegram channel حركة حماس (Hamas) shared a picture depicting a motorized paraglider approaching the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, with a text stating: “We have longed for so long. Our revenge has been fulfilled.” Following the picture, Hamas posted a text blaming the Israeli government for the deaths of Palestinian “martyrs” and the destruction of infrastructure in the Gaza Strip. In the same text, Hamas sent a message to the “sons of our Arab and Islamic nation” and the “free people of the world on all continents:” “Your role is important and influential... more mobilization and mass activities and the continuation and escalation of the movement to condemn this brutal aggression, stop it, and support our people... and defend defenseless civilians.”
CTG is on HIGH alert for the safety of Jerusalem residents and Jewish communities abroad as allegations of Israel’s closure of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and sacrilegious treatment of the holy site continue to circulate in online Arabic spaces. The spread of this information is ALMOST CERTAINTY producing anger and frustration within Palestinian and Muslim communities worldwide, with vandalizations of Jewish holy sites and violent acts against Jewish communities LIKELY increasing. Hamas and its affiliates are VERY LIKELY facilitating the circulation of this narrative, ALMOST CERTAINTY accelerating individuals' progression through the Pathway to Violence resulting in attack planning and execution. It is VERY LIKELY that Hamas, its supporters, or radicalized individuals are plotting an attack against Jerusalem or other important holy sites for Judaism, such as Tiberias, in retribution for the believed desecration of Al-Aqsa. Israel’s denial of closing Al-Aqsa is VERY UNLIKELY to be acknowledged by Muslim communities due to distrust of the Israeli state.
On October 24, Palestine News & Info Agency released an article claiming the Israeli government had closed Al-Aqsa Mosque for Muslim worshipers, citing statements from the Islamic Waqf department responsible for managing the complex. Police allegedly allowed Jewish fanatics to walk around the compound and hold rituals in violation of regulations that permit only Muslims to enter the site. This story quickly began circulating on Arabic-speaking social media networks, gaining significant traction before the Israeli Police released a statement on X, formerly Twitter, denying the allegations of the Mosque’s closure. Palestinian access to Al-Aqsa Mosque has often been restricted during times of heightened tensions or significant religious observance. These restrictions and related incidents of violence in Al-Aqsa’s vicinity, such as the Israeli police’s raid of the Mosque during Ramadan prayers in April 2023, have regularly drawn condemnation and harsh criticism by Muslim countries in the region, particularly given Al-Aqsa's status as the third holiest site in Islam. However, there is no independent, third-party confirmation of whether the alleged recent closure and desecration of the Mosque occurred and is ongoing.
In response to the circulating allegations, the official Hamas Telegram channel حركة حماس (Hamas) shared an edited photograph with its approximately 160,000 followers depicting motorized paragliders approaching the Al-Aqsa Mosque on October 25. One of the paragliders holds a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) launcher and the area behind Al-Aqsa is covered with smoke, indicating the paragliders’ attack on Jerusalem. The translated text on the image, which includes the logo of the Hamas military media Al-Illam Al-Askari, states: “We have longed for so long. Our revenge has been fulfilled.” The combination of the image and the text implies that the long-term longing and fulfillment of revenge pertains to the liberation of Jerusalem.
Following the picture, a member of the Hamas political bureau posted a text calling the Israeli government “Nazi and terrorist Zionist,” blaming its aggression for the “nearly 6,100 martyrs,” “more than 17,000 injured,” and for the destruction of infrastructure in the Gaza Strip. Hamas continues by highlighting the collaboration of “mighty people in Gaza” with the “heroes of the Qassam Brigades” in confronting the “horrific Nazi crimes” happening. The group implores a worldwide call to action: “O sons of our Arab and Islamic nation, and oh free people of the world on all continents of the world... your role is important and influential... more mobilization and mass activities, and the continuation and escalation of the movement to condemn this brutal aggression, stop it, and support our people... and defend defenseless civilians.” The text utilizes a stark us versus them framing to legitimize Hamas’ call to action and garner support for the continuation and escalation of attacks on Israel and its supporters. Throughout the post, Israel is labeled as the “Nazi and terrorist Zionist.” At the same time, the us embodies the “mighty people in Gaza” and extends to the broader “Arab and Islamic nation” and the “free people of the world.” By framing the them group as “Nazis” and “terrorists” and us as victims, the text demonizes and villainizes Israel and establishes a moral high ground for the us group, through which “continuation” and “escalation” are justified.
The continuation of Israeli airstrikes on Gaza Strip and Hamas’ repeated calls to mass mobilization will almost certainly lead to renewed protests by Palestinians across the West Bank, very likely including Jerusalem. Hamas will almost certainly seek to exploit other sources of tension between Palestinians and Israelis to open up new fronts and distract Israeli security forces from ongoing operations in Gaza Strip. This will likely employ allegations of Al-Aqsa Mosque’s closure to Muslim worshipers to call on for its “defense” in the face of Israeli provocations, very likely making the compound’s vicinity a flashpoint for future violent demonstrations. Hamas will almost certainly use potential clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces in and around Al Aqsa to delegitimize Israel and continue projecting itself as the defender of the shrine via its social media. Such messaging will very likely assist Hamas in its efforts to shape international public opinion, likely bolstering support for the group throughout the Muslim world due to Al-Aqsa’s significance for Islam.
Hamas will very likely continue using the momentum of the growing casualties in Gaza Strip Al-Aqsa Mosque’s importance to further the narrative of “good versus evil” within its information campaigns, likely with the intention of garnering support from and driving retaliatory actions by Muslim communities in Palestine and abroad. The group will very likely exploit the ongoing tensions over the alleged closure and desecration of Al-Aqsa to incite clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces in the West Bank, likely to justify the increasing physical security operations in the area. By framing itself as an in-member of the “us” group and depicting its collective cause as noble and righteous, Hamas will likely successfully negate its role in the outbreak and escalation of the conflict amongst sympathizers. Hamas will very likely continue dehumanizing and villainizing Israel and its supporters by calling them “Nazis” and “terrorists” to establish and maintain a moral high ground. Descriptions of destruction, death tolls, and targeted attacks on civilians will very likely continue to be at the core of its campaigns to evoke sympathy and outrage toward the perceived injustices inflicted upon the us group. Hamas will likely continue appealing to a broader collective identity, reaching out to the “Arab and Islamic nation” and “free people of the world,” very likely with the intention of fostering a sense of unity and shared purpose against a common adversary. The circulation and strengthening of the “good versus evil” narrative will likely lead to further polarization between pro-Palestine and pro-Israeli camps and the radicalization of vulnerable individuals in Palestine and abroad.
CTG has gauged the risk of a potential attack on Jewish holy sites and communities in Israel and abroad using the Pathway to Violence matrix. The matrix details the six phases individuals undergo before undertaking violent acts, drawing on studies from academia and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Hamas’ illustration of paragliders heading towards Al-Aqsa, and framing of the us group as victims in its call to action, evidences the circulation of grievances and violent ideations. It is almost certain that Hamas supporters and affiliates are conducting substantial research regarding potential attacks following Hamas' active calls for the escalation of mobilization and activities against “brutal aggression” and in defense of “defenseless civilians.” CTG’s investigations suggest that the fourth phase of the Pathway to Violence, “preparation,” is very likely underway, with the paragliding image and plea to global supporters likely legitimizing a reprisal on Jewish communities and holy sites in Jerusalem and abroad. Hamas is almost certainly leveraging the momentum of the ongoing conflict, increasing tensions between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli groups globally, and violent acts against Muslims to motivate individuals in Israel and abroad to take “retributive” violent actions. Final signals of an imminent attack will very likely include digital and physical reconnaissance of intended targets and public proclamations on social media platforms.
CTG recommends that law enforcement increase surveillance of and its presence at the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Jewish holy sites in Israel.
CTG recommends that law enforcement increase surveillance and its presence at Jewish and Muslim holy sites and establishments abroad.
CTG recommends that law enforcement increase patrols in areas with high concentrations of Jewish and Muslim communities. This noticeable presence can serve as a deterrent and facilitate a prompt reaction in the event of an attack.
CTG recommends not sharing unverified sources, such as posts, pictures, and videos, on social media platforms to minimize the risk of misinformation.
CTG recommends monitoring online traffic on the official Hamas Telegram channel for any signs of calls for the escalation of mobilization.
CTG recommends that the public exercise caution and promotes a “see something, say something” approach to foster enhanced vigilance.
CTG’s CENTCOM and Extremism analytical teams will continue to analyze and monitor further developments, such as statements, threats, or attacks by Hamas and its sympathizers. These teams will work closely with CTG’s Digital Targeter program and the Worldwide Analysis of Threats, Crime, and Hazards (WATCH) team to gather additional information in real time and warn the public in the event of a threat escalation or attacks.
CTG assesses that the current threat climate is HIGH given Hamas’ strategic use of the ongoing conflict between itself and Israel, global tensions between pro-Palestine and pro-Israel camps, and Israel’s alleged closure and desecration of Al-Aqsa to motivate violence in Israel and abroad. The image of Jerusalem’s liberation and textual message that Hamas shared on its Telegram directly calls for an escalation of violence in response to “Nazi and terrorist Zionist aggression” and frames the liberation of Jerusalem as the ultimate revenge, very likely indicating that plans are underway to “liberate” Jerusalem. The continuous circulation of Israel’s alleged actions regarding Al-Aqsa on Arabic-speaking social media networks and Hamas’ focus on Jerusalem, will likely result in increasing protests and violent confrontations between Palestinians and Israeli security forces in the West Bank. By mentioning the “Arab and Islamic nation” and “free people of the world,” the impact of Hamas’ messages extends to the international community, particularly to countries with large Muslim communities. Given the large number of subscribers and the call for immediate action, it is likely that an imminent attack on Jewish communities and sites will happen in Israel and abroad.
Analysis indicates that there is a HIGH PROBABILITY that Hamas is leveraging the momentum of growing casualties in Gaza Strip and the importance of the Al-Aqsa Mosque for the Islamic faith to motivate, plan, and justify an imminent attack on Jerusalem and other Jewish holy sites and communities. Hamas and its affiliates are ALMOST CERTAINTY strategically recirculating the alleged Israeli closure and desecration of Al-Aqsa Mosque to drive frustration and anger amongst Muslim communities in Palestine and abroad, LIKELY aiming to increase the likelihood of an attack. It is VERY LIKELY there will be increasing protests and violent confrontations between Palestinians and Israeli security forces in the West Bank. Hamas’ rhetoric is VERY LIKELY to exacerbate feelings of victimhood and injustice amongst individuals vulnerable to radicalization, with the framing of “good versus evil” LIKELY to inspire these individuals, propelling them to the “preparation” stage of the Pathway to Violence. Potential attackers are VERY LIKELY to target Jewish holy sites, institutions, and communities, LIKELY make public statements on social media before and/or shortly after their attack.
 “Al-Aqsa Mosque” by Godot13 licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International
 Threat Hunter from Telegram
 @IL_police, X, October 24, 2023, https://twitter.com/IL_police/status/1716779337481896013
 Threat Hunter from Telegram
 @IL_police, X, October 24, 2023, https://twitter.com/IL_police/status/1716779337481896013
 Tens of thousands visit Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa for first Friday prayers of Ramadan, Reuters, March 2023, https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/tens-thousands-visit-jerusalems-al-aqsa-first-friday-prayers-ramadan-2023-03-24/
 Al-Aqsa mosque: Violence as Israeli police raid Jerusalem holy site, BBC, April 2023, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-65184207
 Israeli settlement ruling delayed as scores more wounded in clashes in Jerusalem, France24, May 2021, https://www.france24.com/en/middle-east/20210509-scores-more-wounded-as-israeli-police-palestinians-clash-anew-in-jerusalem
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