New details have emerged into Thursday's assassination of the Hamas-linked drone expert Mohammed Zawahri, as the Palestinian group's military wing claimed him as one of their own. Zawahri, who was killed in southern Tunisia in an assassination attributed to Israel's Mossad, also made drones for Hezbollah, reports said.
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Meanwhile, Tunisian security forces located two guns and silencers in a rented car that are purportedly linked to the attack, local media outlets reported Saturday morning.
"Qassam Brigades mourns the martyr of Palestine, martyr of the Arab and Muslim nation, the Qassam leader, engineer and pilot Mohammad Zawari, who was assassinated by Zionist treacherous hands on Thursday in Sfax," a statement posted on Hamas's armed wing's website said.
"The enemy must know the blood of the leader Zawari will not go in vain," the statement said.
The Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar, which is identified with Lebanon's Hezbollah Shi'ite militia, reported Saturday that Zawahri had worked with the military wing of Hamas since the 1990s, as well as with Hezbollah.
Sources in Hezbollah and Hamas' military wing told the Lebanese daily that Zawahri's association with the Hamas military wing began in the 1990s, following his departure from Tunisia, where he was reportedly being pursued by authorities at the time.
Zawahri, they said, worked in the Iz al-Din al-Qassam's aviation unit and was responsible for the development and production of small drones and for training members of the Hamas military wing. According to another report in Al Jazeera, he was one of the leaders of Hamas' drone program in recent years.
He is also said to have done similar work for Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria, and to have lived in Damascus until 2013. After his return to Tunisia, Zawahri maintained his contacts with Hezbollah and Hamas' military wing, and made repeated visits to Lebanon and Turkey.
Israel has in the past intercepted and shot down drones belonging to Hamas, and defense officials have warned about the Gaza group's unmanned aircraft systems.
Zawahri had reportedly not been in hiding prior to his killing, and had not conducted himself as someone who thought his life was in danger, having even established a flying club in southern Tunisia.
Al-Akhbar stated explicitly that the Mossad was behind the killing, adding that Zawahri was killed after returning to Tunisia from a short visit to Lebanon and Turkey. The report said the Israeli espionage agency may have had ties to a woman who contacted Zawahri seeking an interview with him, claiming to be a Tunisian journalist living in Hungary. The woman reportedly disappeared a day before the killing.
Al-Akhbar also said the killing of Zawahri had similarities to the 2013 assassination in Beirut of Hezbollah aviation official Hassan al-Laqis, which was attributed in Arab media to the Mossad. On the other hand, in Thursday's assassination weapons were found, something Al-Akhbar said the Mossad would not do.
Four individuals were arrested in Tunisia on suspicion of involvement in the killing and authorities said three other rented vehicles were found that were linked to the case. Tunisian police also said that at least one individual who left the country a day before the killing was thought involved.
According to reports on Friday, Zawahri, 49, was struck at close range by six bullets, including three to the head. His assailant, who managed to escape the scene, was said to be highly skilled. In an indication that the case was not seen by authorities as a terrorism case, a Tunisian media report noted that the case was not being investigated by the police's terrorism prevention division.
A spokesman for Tunisia's Interior Ministry, Yasser Mesbah, said security forces have made substantial progress in the investigation and have obtained evidence at a number of locations around the country. He declined to provide further details, citing the fact that the investigation is ongoing.