Mohamed Zouari in 2014. PHOTO/Businessnews.com.tn
By ABDULHAKIM SHERMAN
A senior aviation engineer who headed the unmanned aerial vehicle program of the Palestinian militant group Hamas, has been shot dead outside his home in Tunisia by a group of assailants using guns equipped with silencers.
Mohamed Zaouari, 49, was a Tunisian national who had spent over a decade creating an innovative aerial drone program for Hamas, the Palestinian group that today controls the Gaza Strip.
He had lived outside of Tunisia for much of his life, most recently in Syria, where he is believed to have worked as an engineer in a private firm, while also consulting with the Palestinian group.
He had returned to Tunisia in 2011, following the upheaval in the country that sparked the so-called Arab Spring.
According to intelnews.org, Zaouari was reportedly shot on Thursday in his hometown of Sfax, Tunisia’s second-largest city, located 170 miles southeast of the capital Tunis. Local media said he was shot dead at the wheel of his car, which was parked outside his home.
His body was riddled with over 20 bullets, according to a police statement. On Friday, Tunisia’s Deputy Prosecutor General, Mourad Turki, said during a radio interview that several people are believed to have participated in Zaouari’s killing.
Eight people had been arrested in connection with the crime, while at least two others were still at large, said Turki. All ten are believed to be Tunisian citizens. Among them is a woman, claiming to be a journalist, who has reportedly interviewed Zaouari in the past.
She was allegedly arrested as she was boarding a flight from the Tunis-Carthage International Airport to the Hungarian capital Budapest. Additionally, officials from Tunisia’s Interior Ministry said that four rental vehicles had been seized in connection with Zaouari’s killing, and that two weapons equipped with silencers had been found in one of the vehicles.
A statement issued on Saturday by the Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, said Zaouari had been a part of Hamas for a decade, and blamed his killing on the Mossad, Israel’s external intelligence agency.
Hamas leaders said that Zaouari’s contribution to the organization would be celebrated during a specially designated “day of mourning”, and that his killing would be avenged.
“The enemy must know the blood of the leader Zaouari will not go in vain”, said a statement issued by Hamas on Saturday. Israel has not responded to Hamas’ accusations.
Tzachi Hanegbi, the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office in charge of National Security and Foreign Affairs, said late on Saturday that Israel was “not connected” with Zaouari’s killing and added that “none of those people arrested are our allies”.
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