Two assassins used Bosnian passports, Hamas claims

Hamas officially blames Mossad for death of Tunisian drone maker

In press conference in Beirut, terror group says it may not respond militarily, but will weigh legal action

Dov Lieber is The Times of Israel's Arab affairs correspondent.

Members of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, hold a banner bearing a portrait of Mohammed al-Zoari in Gaza City on December 18, 2016. (AFP/Mahmud Hams)
Members of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, hold a banner bearing a portrait of Mohammed al-Zoari in Gaza City on December 18, 2016. (AFP/Mahmud Hams)

The Hamas terror group on Thursday officially accused Israeli spy agency Mossad of carrying out last year’s assassination of Mohammed al-Zoari, a Tunisian aviation scientist and engineer who developed the terror group’s unmanned drones.

In a press conference in Beirut, Hamas official Mohamed Nazzal said, “We are absolutely certain that the Mossad is responsible for the assassination of Zoari.”

He added that the Mossad had received help from other security services, but he did not elaborate on who they were.

Nazzal said the accusation was the result of Hamas’s own investigation in the scientist’s death. However, the Hamas official’s narrative of the alleged assassination was built almost entirely off of details released by Tunisian officials following the incident in December 2016, including that the killers had posed as two foreign journalists.

In the Hamas version, the two journalists, who used their alleged work as a way to get close to Zoari and scope out his neighborhood, claimed to have Bosnian citizenship. The two assassins were using Bosnian passports, Nazzal said.

Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon declined comment.

Israel has previously faced criticism after its agents reportedly used British, Irish, Australian and other passports to assassinate a Hamas leader in the United Arab Emirates in 2010. That led to Britain, Ireland and Australia expelling some Israeli diplomats in protest.

Tunisian newspapers had rushed to blame Mossad for the killing of Zoari, who was shot dead at point-blank range in his car outside his home in the Tunisian city of Sfax.

Hamas at the time had already blamed Israel for Zoari’s death, but had not yet pointed the finger at the Mossad.

Rather than vowing a military response to the alleged assassination, Nazzal said the report on Zoari’s death would be handed over to Hamas’s legal team, which would then study various options for confronting Israel.

The Hamas official explained it wasn’t up to the terror group alone to open up a new military front with Israel, and that such a decision belongs to all the Palestinian factions.

Hamas is currently in a reconciliation process with its rival party Fatah, which controls the Palestinian Authority. In the context of this reconciliation process, Hamas leaders have said the decision of when to go to war with Israel should be a collective decision.

Israel never responded to the accusation by Hamas that it was behind Zoari’s death.

A picture taken on December 20, 2016 in Gaza City shows a Palestinian man walking past a banner depicting a portrait of Mohamed al-Zoari, who was murdered in Tunisia on December 15, 2016. (AFP/MAHMUD HAMS)

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman played coy when speaking about the killing.

“If someone was killed in Tunisia, he’s not likely to be a peace activist or a Nobel Prize candidate,” Liberman said last December.

Zoari is the second person this year that Hamas has claimed Israel assassinated.

In May, Hamas accused Israel’s internal security service, the Shin Bet, of assassinating Mazen Faqha, who was responsible for planning terror attacks against Israelis from the West Bank.

AFP contributed to this report.

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