Hamas on Tuesday announced that three Palestinian suspects had confessed to assassinating a senior member of the organization on the orders of Israeli intelligence officers.
Mazen Faqha, one of Hamas’s top terror masterminds, was killed with a silenced pistol in the garage of his apartment building on March 24.
In a press conference broadcast on its television channel, Hamas official Tawfiq Abu Na’im, director general of the Hamas-controlled Gaza interior ministry, said, “The security services were able to arrest the direct killer of Mazen Faqha.” They identified him only as a 38-year-old with the initials A.L.
“He confessed to the crime and his connection to Israeli security services,” Abu Na’im said.
“We also arrested two agents of the occupation who confessed to having played a part in the assassination by monitoring and filming the crime scene,” Abu Na’im added, also identifying them by their initials only: H.A., 44, and A.N., 38.
While two of the men are from Gaza, one is a resident of the West Bank, the Hamas terror group said. They were all arrested last week.
The Hamas official said that 45 “agents” on Israel’s pay were arrested since Faqha’s killing, in a “severe blow to the occupation’s intelligence services.”
On Friday Faqha’s family identified the prime suspect A.L. as Ashraf Abu Layla, a 37-year-old former Hamas member from the central Gaza Strip.
Abu Layla was a member of Hamas’s military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, but was thrown out years ago over “moral transgressions,” they said.
Reports in the Palestinian media claimed Abu Layla then joined a radical Salafist group before eventually being recruited by the Mossad to carry out the killing.
In the Tuesday video played on Hamas’s Al Aqsa TV, the three suspects spoke of their involvement and how they were handled by two Israeli intelligence officers called “Sayid” and “Balel.”
During an alleged confession A.L.told of being instructed by an Israeli intelligence officer to carry out the assassination. He said he was recruited by Israel in 2004.
“The intelligence officer on Friday [the day of the assassination] contacted me and asked me to go to the Tel al-Hawa area near the Jerusalem hospital [in Gaza].”
He said the intelligence officer then told him “the moment [Faqha’s] car enters the garage, follow him inside and shoot him in the head and chest.”
“I moved fast and I had a gun with me. The martyr’s car went down and I followed him immediately. I stopped next to his window and knocked on it. He half-opened the window because he thought I was asking him for help. Before he said a word I shot him five times in the chest and in the head. I escaped along a route that the security officer had prepared for me,” he added.
H.A, a resident of the West Bank who was allegedly recruited as a spy in 1998 after requesting a permit to work in Israel, was shown confessing to photographing the homes of a number of killed Hamas leaders, including its founder Ahmed Yassin and Khaled al-Dahduh, Masud Iyad, Raed Fanuna and Muhammad al-Homs.
The suspect said he was assigned to start collecting information on Faqha eight months before the assassination.
A.N. said he had been working for Israel since 2010, and his cover was as a humanitarian worker. His job was to locate Hamas military sites, including where rockets were being stored. Since mid-2016, he said, he had been monitoring the Tel al-Hawa neighborhood where Faqha lived.
Faqha, 38, originally from the West Bank, was serving nine life terms in Israeli prison for directing deadly suicide bombing attacks in which nine people were killed and 52 were wounded when he was freed with more than 1,000 other Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in 2011. Under the release, Faqha was sent to Gaza.
There, Faqha headed the Hamas office tasked with launching terror attacks against Israel from inside the West Bank. His subordinates in the branch specialized in recruiting suicide attackers, collecting weapons and preparing explosive devices.
Following his assassination, Hamas said at the time the gun used to shoot Faqha had a silencer, which allowed the killer to escape unnoticed. It added that the professionalism of the shooting indicated that Israel was behind the hit.
Since Faqha’s killing, Hamas leaders have threatened to carry out a revenge attack against Israel.
Also Tuesday, the Islamic Jihad terror group published a video in which it threatened to assassinate senior IDF officers. In the video Hamad official Ramdan Shelach said if Israel played with Palestinian lives, Islamic Jihad would break the calm. The video showed included a clip of the head IDF Operations, Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon, seen as though through binoculars, as he toured an area near to the border fence with the Palestinian coastal enclave.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.