IDF says intel shows two journalists slain in Gaza strike were terror group members

Military claims documents found in Strip reveal pair working for Al Jazeera were members of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and ‘actively involved in attacks’

Family members mourn Hamza Dahdouh, who worked for Al Jazeera and who was killed in an Israeli airstrike in Rafah, Gaza Strip, January 7, 2024 (AP Photo/Hatem Ali) (AP Photo/Hatem Ali)
File: Al Jazeera journalist Wael Dahdouh (left) mourns his son Hamza, who also worked for Al Jazeera and who was killed in an Israeli airstrike in Rafah, Gaza Strip, January 7, 2024. (AP Photo/Hatem Ali)

The Israel Defense Forces on Wednesday two said two men identified as Al Jazeera journalists who were killed in a strike in southern Gaza’s Rafah earlier this week were members of terror organizations in the Strip.

In Sunday’s strike in Rafah, Hamza Wael Dahdouh, the son of Al Jazeera’s Gaza correspondent Wael Dahdouh, and Mustafa Thuria, a video stringer for AFP who was also working for the Qatar-based TV outlet, were both killed. A third journalist, Hazem Rajab, was seriously wounded, Al Jazeera said.

The strike was carried out after the IDF said it spotted a terror operative piloting a drone in a way that endangered Israeli forces, and subsequently hit a car they were in.

After initially appearing to walk back the claim the pair were with a terror operative, the IDF said its intelligence confirmed both were members of Gaza-based terror groups and were “actively involved in attacks against IDF forces.”

It said Thuria was identified by a document found by troops in Gaza as a member of Hamas’s Gaza City Brigade, serving as a deputy squad commander in one of the battalions.

Dahdouh, according to the IDF, was a member of Palestinian Islamic Jihad. It said documents recovered by troops in Gaza reveal he served in Islamic Jihad’s electronic engineering unit, and previously was a deputy commander in the Zeitoun Battalion’s rocket force.

The IDF attached a copy of the document showing Dahdouh was a member of Islamic Jihad’s electronic engineering unit.

Hours after Sunday’s strike the IDF said that a military aircraft had “identified and struck a terrorist who operated an aircraft in a way that put IDF forces at risk.”

NBC News asked IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari on Monday if the military had evidence to support the claim that one of the individuals in the vehicle was a terrorist, to which he responded by saying the incident was still under investigation.

“Every journalist that dies, it’s unfortunate,” Hagari was quoted by NBC as saying.

“We understand they were putting a drone, using a drone. And using a drone in a war zone, it’s a problem. It looks like the terrorists,” Hagari said.

Hamas has repeatedly used drones to collect intelligence on Israeli troops in the Gaza Strip, as well as carry out attacks by dropping explosives from the unmanned aircraft.

Thuria and Hamza Wael Dahdouh had been tasked with filming the aftermath of a strike on a house in Rafah and their car was hit while they were on their way back, AFP correspondents said.

Hamza’s father, Wael Dahdouh, 53, has been the face of Al Jazeera’s 24-hour coverage of this war and previous rounds of fighting for millions of Arabic-speaking viewers across the region, nearly always appearing on air in the blue helmet and flak jacket worn to identify journalists.

Dahdouh lost his wife, two other children, and a grandson earlier in the war on Hamas in Gaza, triggered by the terror group’s murderous onslaught in Israel on October 7 when thousands of terrorists killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took 240 hostages of all ages.

Asked by Al Jazeera’s Jerusalem bureau chief Walid Al-Omari at a press conference on Tuesday about Sunday’s strike and the deaths of Wael Dahdouh’s family members, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said: “The loss — losses — that your colleague suffered are unimaginable, and I have deep condolences for what he has suffered. I, again, can’t even begin to fully imagine what he’s gone through. And as I said again the other day, to the journalists who’ve lost their lives or have been injured in Gaza, we feel very strongly for them as well, and the essential work that they do is more vital than ever.”

File: People check the car in which two journalists, Mustafa Thuria and Hamza Wael Dahdouh, were killed in a reported Israeli strike in Rafah in the Gaza Strip on January 7, 2024. (AFP)

The Committee to Protect Journalists says at least 79 Palestinian reporters, as well as four Israeli and three Lebanese reporters, have been killed since Hamas’s October 7 attack triggered the war in Gaza and an escalation in fighting along Israel’s border with Lebanon amid attacks by the Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group.

Israel denies targeting journalists and says it makes every effort to avoid harming civilians, blaming the high death toll on the fact that Hamas fights in densely populated urban areas and embeds itself deliberately among civilians who are used as human shields. In a statement on December 16, the Israeli army said “the IDF has never, and will never, deliberately target journalists.”

The International Criminal Court confirmed Tuesday that it is investigating potential crimes against journalists since the outbreak of the war.

Media advocacy group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said in November that it had filed a complaint with the Hague-based ICC alleging war crimes over the deaths of journalists trying to cover the conflict.

“The office of prosecutor Karim Khan has assured the organization that crimes against journalists are included in its investigation into Palestine,” the organization announced on Monday.

The court confirmed the statement, saying: “The ICC Office of the Prosecutor’s investigation into the situation in the State of Palestine concerns crimes committed within the Court’s jurisdiction since 13 June 2014.”

Israel has fiercely condemned that investigation, noting the significance of the timing of the investigation’s span. On June 12, 2014, Hamas terrorists kidnapped and murdered three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank. The investigation is set to focus on events beginning from the following day.

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