Harakat al-Jihad al-Islami al-Filastini, better known as Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), was formed in 1979 by Islamic fundamentalist Fathi Shaqaqi and other radical Palestinian students in Egypt who had split from the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood in the Gaza Strip whom they deemed too moderate. The 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran influenced the group's founder, Shaqaqi, who believed the liberation of Palestine would unite the Arab and Muslim world into a single great Islamic state.
Today, PIJ is committed to the creation of an Islamic Palestinian state and the destruction of Israel through jihad (holy war).
The Egyptian government expelled the PIJ to the Gaza Strip after learning of their close relations with radical Egyptian students who assassinated President Anwar Sadat in 1981. Still, PIJ members remained active in Egypt, attacking a tour bus in Egypt in February 1990 that killed 11 people, including nine Israelis. PIJ agents were arrested in Egypt in September 1991 while attempting to enter the country to conduct terrorism.
The PIJ began its terrorist campaign against Israel in the 1980s. In 1987, prior to the intifada, it carried out several terrorist attacks in the Gaza Strip. In August 1988, the faction`s leaders, Shaqaqi and `Abd al-`Aziz `Odah, were expelled to Lebanon, where Shaqaqi reorganized the faction, maintaining close contacts with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards unit stationed in Lebanon and with Hizballah. Although several other factions of Palestinian Islamic Jihad were formed in the 1980s, the main faction remains the group founded by Shaqaqi. After the 1993 Olso Peace Accords between Israeli and the Palestinians, Shaqaqi expanded the political connections of the organization to become a member of the new Syrian influenced Rejection Front.
PIJ and Hamas (The Islamic Resistance Movement), a separate Palestinian terrorist organization, were regarded as rivals in the Gaza Strip until after the foundation of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in 1994 when Hamas adopted the strategy suicide terrorist bombings. Since then, there has been some operational cooperation between the two organizations in carrying out attacks like the one in Beit-Lid, in February 1995, where two suicide bombers killed eight Israelis and wounded 50.
When PIJ leader Shaqaqi was killed in October 1995 in Malta, allegedly by Israeli agents, the PIJ position among Palestinian terrorist organizations dipped because his successor, Ramadan Abdallah Muhammad Shalah, who lived in the United States for several years, lacked Shaqaqi's charisma and intellectual and organizational skills. That did not stop PIJ's terror campaign, however, which included the March 1996 suicide bombing of the Dizengoff Center in downtown Tel Aviv, which killed 20 civilians and wounded more than 75, including two Americans.
On October 8, 1997, the United States Department of State officially designated PIJ as a Foreign Terrorist Organization for its continued use of terrorist tactics in fighting against Israel.
The group is based in Damascus and its financial backing is believed to come from there and Iran. PIJ also has offices in Beirut, Tehran and Khartoum. It has some influence in the Gaza Strip, mainly in the Islamic University, but not in a way that can endanger the dominant position of Hamas as the leading Islamic Palestinian organization. Unlike Hamas, PIJ has no social or political role in the PA.
Aside from Israel, PIJ also considers the United States an enemy because of its support for Israel. The PIJ also opposes moderate Arab governments that it believes have been tainted by Western secularism and has carried out attacks in Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt.
Since September 2000, PIJ has been responsible for scores of terrorist attacks, including dozens of suicide and car bombings, which have claimed the lives and wounded hundreds of innocent Israeli civilians.
On December 22, 2001, despite a declaration by Hamas to halt suicide bombings inside Israel, in response to a crackdown on militants by Yassir Arafat, PIJ vowed to continue its terror campaign. PIJ's representative in Lebanon, Abu Imad Al Rifai, told Reuters, "Our position is to continue. We have no other choice. We are not willing to compromise."
PIJ attacks from 2005 through 2013 have been primarily rocket attacks aimed at southern Israeli cities, but have also included attacking Israeli targets with explosive devices, especially military patrols along the Israel-Gaza border. The US Department of State believes PIJ's strenght to be less than 1,000 members though it recieves complete financial assistance and military training from Iran. Despite its successes, PIJ remains a small movement and only enjoys the support of roughly 4-5% of the Palestinian population, mainly because it lacks the institutional network built by Hamas. This fact, however, enables Islamic Jihad to focus on its ideological goals and disregard wider political considerations.
Sources: Reuters, AP, Patterns of Global Terrorism, United States Department of State, The International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism; Tel Aviv University - The Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies