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Tunisia: Foreigners posing as media hired local journalist to help kill Hamas man

Interior minister says it took months to plan murder of Mohammed al-Zoari, who the terror group says led its drone program

Members of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, hold a banner bearing a portrait of one of their leaders, Mohamed al-Zoari, who was killed in Tunisia, during a ceremony in his memory on December 18, 2016, in Gaza City. (AFP PHOTO/MAHMUD HAMS)
Members of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, hold a banner bearing a portrait of one of their leaders, Mohamed al-Zoari, who was killed in Tunisia, during a ceremony in his memory on December 18, 2016, in Gaza City. (AFP PHOTO/MAHMUD HAMS)

Tunisia’s interior minister said that journalists hired by individuals posing as a media company were entangled in the murder of an Tunisian engineer who the Hamas terror group said spearheaded its drone program.

“It is possible that a foreign service is implicated but… We do not yet have any tangible proof,” Hedi Mejdoub told a news conference Monday after attending a security meeting with his prime minister.

Mohammed Al-Zoari, 49, was murdered at the wheel of his car outside his house in the port city of Sfax on Thursday. He was hit by 20 bullets.

Israel has not responded to an accusation by Hamas that it was behind the death.

Mejdoub told reporters that “at least two foreigners” were involved in the shooting. The killing, he said, had the hallmarks of a foreign espionage agency’s handiwork.

Mohammed Al-Zoari, a Tunisian scientist with ties to Hamas killed near his home in the Tunisian city of Sfax on Thursday, December 15, 2016. (Screen capture Channel 10)
Mohammed Al-Zoari, a Tunisian scientist with ties to Hamas killed near his home in the Tunisian city of Sfax on Thursday, December 15, 2016. (Screen capture Channel 10)

According to Mejdoub, a Tunisian journalist told local investigators that she was hired by foreigners posing as a media company planning to make documentaries in Tunisia for a Malaysian TV channel, including one about the aerospace industry in Arab states, and asked her to contact al-Zoari as one of the interviewees for the movie.

Paid 100 euros per day, plus expenses, the woman traveled to Tunis, filmed al-Zoari, and gave the footage to the company. In all, she received 2,000 euros for her work. Besides filming al-Zoari, she also rented a number of cars used in his assassination, Mejdoub said, adding that planning for the killing took place over months, since at least June.

Three days before Saturday’s hit, the interior minister said, a foreign man working for the media company contacted her and asked her to rent two cars, and told her to then leave the country the next day.

The journalist was in Budapest during the hit, and only returned to Tunis after it was carried out.

The prosecution has said that 10 suspects, all Tunisians, have been detained for questioning, including a female journalist, and that authorities have seized four vehicles and two weapons.

Mejdoub said two Tunisian nationals living in Sweden were also involved in the operation. The two rented an apartment in Sfax to tail al-Zoari and rented four cell phones.

“The organizers prepared two plans for two teams, in case one failed or was caught. The hit was planned meticulously and thoroughly,” he said.

Tunisian authorities have yet to identify who was behind the shooting.

Hundreds protested in Tunis on Tuesday over the killing.

Tunisians shout slogans against Israel during a demonstration on December 20, 2016 in Tunis (AFP PHOTO / FETHI BELAID)
Tunisians shout slogans against Israel during a demonstration on December 20, 2016 in Tunis (AFP PHOTO / FETHI BELAID)

Waving Tunisian and Palestinian flags, more than 200 protesters walked up a main thoroughfare in the Tunisian capital, an AFP correspondent said.

“With our soul, with our blood, we will avenge you Palestine,” they chanted.

Protester Mohammad Ammar said al-Zoari was “a martyr with a capital M” and his murder was “a loss not only for Tunisia but also for Palestine and the Arab nation.”

Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas that controls the Gaza Strip, told AFP on Saturday that al-Zoari was a drone expert who had worked for the “resistance” for 10 years, and that he was killed by “Zionist treachery.”

The Tunisian parliament is to meet to discuss the murder of al-Zoari, after the government said it was determined to “pursue those guilty of carrying out assassinations inside and outside” the country.

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