According to international laws governing of armed conflict, mosques used for military purposes lose the special protection afforded houses of worship and may become legitimate targets for attack.
Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center
at the Israel Intelligence Heritage & Commemoration Center (IICC)
1. Operation Cast Lead illustrated the varied military uses made by Hamas of the mosques under its control in the Gaza Strip. During the operation evidence (which was extensively documented by the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center) was found about the storage of weapons in mosques (rockets, IEDs, light arms and even an anti-aircraft gun), and about using the mosques for military training and as bases from which to launch rockets into Israel and mortar shells at IDF forces nearby.
2. The extensive use made of mosques by terrorist organizations and radical Islamic groups for military, terrorist and political purposes is not limited to the Gaza Strip. This study also examines similar uses made by Hamas in Judea and Samaria, Hezbollah in south Lebanon, and global jihad and other radical Islamic groups in various countries around the Arab-Muslim world (in conflict focal points such as Iraq and Pakistan) and even in the Muslim communities in Europe. In many locations both in the Middle East and beyond, radical Islamic terrorist organizations exploit the mosques to hide weapons, organize in preparation for attacks, enlist supporters and terrorist operatives, preach terrorism and indoctrinate Muslims who come to worship with hatred for Israel, the Jewish people, the West in general and the United States in particular, as well as for pro-Western Arab and Islamic regimes.
3. The study also examines the religious and social roots of the use of mosques for military and political purposes. Senior Islamic clerics, both Sunni and Shi’ite (particularly the Sunni sheikh Yussuf Qardawi and the Shi’ite Ayatollah Khamenei), repeatedly claim that making such use of the mosques for jihad objectives is legitimate according to Islamic point of view. They also encourage their use for spreading jihad ideology and terrorism (muqawamah, i.e., "resistance") against the enemies of Islam. Their religious views are based on the Islamic oral traditions (hadiths) which say that the prophet Muhammad himself used a mosque for military and political purposes, beyond the classic use of the mosque as house of worship.
4. The use made by terrorist organizations of mosques for military purposes and as launching pads for terrorist attacks is liable to endanger innocent civilians who have no link to the organizations. It harms the status and special protection afforded houses of worship by international laws of armed combat, as well as the protection afforded civilian structures and the civilian population in general. The laws of armed conflict unequivocally state that houses of worship used for military purposes lose their right to protection and thus expose themselves to attack. Hamas and Islamic terrorist groups claim that attacking mosques (even though they were put to military-terrorist purposes) is illegal and is an infringement of the freedom of worship. Those claims, aimed primarily at Western ears where public opinion regards the mosques as places used exclusively for religious purposes, are worthless. The measures taken by the IDF in the Gaza Strip against mosques used for military purposes, as well as those taken by other countries, including, for example, the United States in Iraq, were in accordance with international law and arose from the natural commitment of any state to defend its citizens .
5. The legitimate battle against the military and political use made of mosques by terrorist organizations and radical Islamic elements has been waged in various ways: during Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip, the IDF attacked mosques used for such purposes by Hamas; in Iraq, the United States attacked mosques in Fallujah and other cities because they were being used as military bases by insurgents and other terrorist elements; in Judea and Samaria the Palestinian Authority invaded mosques controlled by Hamas and confiscated weapons and propaganda materials, and detained clerics; in Pakistan the regime was forced to take over the entire Red Mosque precinct in Islamabad, where radical Islamic activities were being held and from which terrorist groups affiliated with the global jihad launched their attacks.
6. Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia have been forced to impose close security supervision on the mosques which are home to global jihad groups whose activities are also directed against the host countries (the sheikh of Al-Azhar mosque, Muhammad Al-Tantawi, who is a senior religious authority in the Sunni Muslim world, determined that a country has the full right to attack a mosque to preserve its security interests). In addition, European countries (especially Britain) and the United States were also forced to impose close security supervision on mosques which had become focal points for global jihad incitement and terrorist activities, especially after September 11, 2001 .
7. The radical Islamist terrorist exploitation of mosques for military and political purposes can be expected to continue. The struggle against such exploitation has met several serious difficulties, especially since in many places Islamic terrorist organizations enjoy great popularity with those who come to the mosques (popularity which is sometimes greater than that of the countries and regimes fighting terrorism, each in its own way). Nevertheless, the struggle must be continued in a variety of ways as an integral part of the global war against terrorism and its various manifestations.
– See full IICC report (pdf)