Mass Turnout at West Bank Funerals of Jihadists Killed in Clash With IDF

IDF says men were members of radical Salafist cell planning attacks on both Israelis and the Palestinian Authority.

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Thousands of mourners attended the funerals Wednesday of three suspected Palestinian militants killed in a clash with Israeli security forces in the Hebron area the previous day.

The three were identified by Palestinian sources as Mohammed Nairouh, 29, Mahmoud al-Najjar, 23, and Moussa Makhamreh, 22. They had escaped previous attempts by Palestinian security forces to arrest them, according to Nairouh's brother, Obeidallah, and al-Najjar's uncle, Taleb.

The three were suspected of being members of a radical Salafist terror cell that was planning attacks on Israelis and on the Palestinian Authority, said Israeli army spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner. Salafism is a radical stream of puritanical Islam, though many of its adherents are not violent.

Lerner said the group had started putting together a terrorist infrastructure, including assembling weapons and explosives. He said the cell was the "first substantial indication" of violent activity by jihadi Salafis in the West Bank.

The three alleged members of the West Bank cell were killed late Tuesday near the city of Hebron. Lerner said Israeli special forces stopped the car the three were riding in and shot out the tires. Two were killed when the Israeli forces opened fire after observing suspicious behavior, while the third escaped on foot. The fugitive was later killed in a hideout several kilometers away, Lerner said.

Palestinian police have arrested 22 suspected Salafis in Hebron and the West Bank cities of Nablus and Jenin in the last three weeks, the Palestinian security official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters.

Obeidallah Nairouh said his brother had served six years in an Israeli prison for Hamas-related activities. In prison, Mohammed quit Hamas, due to its failure to impose Sharia law, and drifted toward the Salafis, his brother said. The dead man spoke frequently about the need to engage in jihad, or holy war.

Despite Nairouh's apparent falling out with Hamas, the militant group dominated his funeral march in Hebron. Several thousand mourners joined the procession, many of them raising the green flag of Hamas and chanting "revenge, revenge."

The other two men were buried in the nearby town of Yatta, where several thousand turned up for the funeral procession.

The Salafist ideology is linked to the al-Qaida terror network. Thousands of Salafis have flocked to Syria to fight alongside the rebels trying to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Mourners carry the bodies of two of the militants during their funeral in the village of Yatta, near Hebron.Credit: Reuters

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