GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — A gunman who killed a senior Hamas commander in a March ambush was a former member of the group who joined a radical al-Qaida-inspired rival and was secretly recruited by Israel, Hamas officials said Tuesday.

The assailant’s deep roots in Hamas caused more embarrassment for the Islamic militant group.

The March 24 killing of Mazen Faqha, a senior member of Hamas’ military wing, had stunned the movement, which has prided itself on restoring security since wresting control of Gaza from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ forces a decade ago.

Faqha had been shot several times in his upper body. His body was found in his car in a garage under his Gaza City apartment building.

Hamas accused Israel of killing him through collaborators and launched a manhunt.

On Tuesday, Hamas announced it had arrested 45 alleged collaborators with Israel, including three purportedly involved in killing Faqha. It was the largest such sweep since the 2007 Gaza takeover.

Iyad Bozum, a spokesman for the Hamas-run Interior Ministry, said the trial of the three suspects in the Faqha killing, including the shooter, started Monday.

A Hamas official said the shooter had been kicked out of Hamas for “moral crimes” four years ago and had joined an al-Qaida-inspired group known as the Army of Islam. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the sensitive case.

Hamas also released what it said was a videotaped confession by the shooter. In the video, the man’s face is blurred and he is only identified as a “fired” security officer. The man is heard saying he was recruited by Israel and was paid to form al-Qaida-style cells.

The man says he followed Faqha into the garage and knocked on the car window. He says Faqha rolled down the car window half-way, and that he fired five to six shots into Faqha’s head and chest before fleeing.

The Interior Ministry said another Palestinian suspected of involvement in the killing fled Gaza.

Faqha was released in the 2011 swap of an Israel soldier held by Hamas for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.

Author photo
FARES AKRAM
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