Defense officials acknowledged yesterday that Israel was responsible for the assassination in Gaza City of a key figure in the Army of Islam, which is linked to Al-Qaida.
In a return to an Israeli policy of targeted killings, Mohammed Namnam, a 27-year-old resident of the Shati refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, was killed around noon in an explosion that rocked a car he was driving in the Rimal neighborhood in the heart of Gaza City. He was alone in the vehicle at the time.
Namnam was considered a close associate of Mumtaz Durmush, the commander of the Army of Islam, which was involved in the abduction of Gilad Shalit in 2006, although the group is no longer holding the Israeli soldier. The organization is controlled by the Durmush family.
According to the Hamas-run Interior Ministry, the explosion in Namnam's car was caused by a missile fired from an Israeli unmanned aircraft, but it has also been suggested that the car was booby-trapped with explosives. Three passersby were injured in the blast, one seriously.
Israel confirmed yesterday evening that it had carried out the killing in a combined action by the Shin Bet security service and the Israel Defense Forces. It did not state, however, how the operation was carried out. Some Palestinian sources in the Gaza Strip have said Namnam was killed when explosives that had recently been transferred to Gaza from Israel exploded in his car.
The Army of Islam is identified with radical Islamic fundamentalism in Gaza; the group shares many of the characteristics of world Jihad organizations such as Al-Qaida. Army of Islam activists wear the same garb as Al-Qaida members, and the group recently fired mortar shells and rockets into Israel and has been involved in attacks across the Gaza border fence on Israeli soldiers.
Namnam was said to have been personally involved in planning attacks on Israel as well as American targets in the Sinai Peninsula, including the firing of rockets at an American ship off the Sinai coast and a planned assault on members of the multinational observer force in the peninsula.
Since the end of Operation Cast Lead, most IDF actions in Gaza have been directed at gangs firing rockets over the border into Israel, at smuggling tunnels on the Gaza border with Egypt and metal workshops where arms are manufactured and stored. Yesterday's targeted killing in Gaza was only the second since Operation Cast Lead.
The Army of Islam opposes Hamas rule in Gaza, and intelligence officials believe it is operating under Al-Qaida's auspices and with training from the group.
Over the past year, relations between the Army of Islam and Hamas have been strained. Even before Cast Lead, which took place in late 2008 and early 2009, Hamas forces raided the Durmush family compound in Gaza's Sabra neighborhood and arrested several people present, including Namnam. He spent several months in Hamas prison before being released.
In addition, the Army of Islam has tried to kill senior military figures in Hamas through booby-trapped explosives.
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