The Gaza Strip's ruling Hamas militant group said Saturday that a man who was gunned down in Malaysia was an important member of the organization, accusing Israel of being behind the brazen killing.
Hamas said Palestinian engineer Fadi Batsh was a "loyal" member and a "scientist of Palestine's youth scholars." It gave no further details on his scientific accomplishments but said he had made "important contributions" and participated in international forums in the field of energy.
Hamas initially stopped short of blaming Israel, saying only that Batsh had been "assassinated by the hand of treachery." But later its top leader, Ismail Haniyeh, accused Israel's Mossad spy agency of killing him and threatened retaliation.
Haniyeh told the Associated Press on Saturday that based on previous assassinations "Mossad is not away from this disgraceful, terrible crime."
"There will be an unsettled account between us and it," Haniyeh said at a mourning tent in Gaza, referring to Mossad.
The Israeli government had no comment. But Israel has long been suspected of targeting wanted Palestinian militants in daring overseas operations and has been linked to other assassinations as well, though it has rarely publicly acknowledged them.
Malaysian police say the 34-year-old Batsh was gunned down early Saturday by two assailants who shot at least eight bullets from a motorbike as he was heading to a mosque for dawn prayers in Kuala Lumpur. Authorities said closed-circuit television footage showed Batsh targeted by assassins who had waited for him for almost 20 minutes.
Malaysia's deputy prime minister, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, said the government was looking into the possibility of the involvement of "foreign agents" in the killing. He told local media that initial investigations showed the assailants were "white men" driving a powerful BMW motorbike.
Batsh received his PhD from Kuala Lumpur's University of Malaya in 2015 and was a senior lecturer at the British Malaysian Institute. His official biography said his research interests included power converters, power quality and renewable energy.
However, Israeli media reported that he was also deeply involved in the Hamas drone development project.
Israel and Hamas are bitter foes who have fought three wars since 2008. Tension has risen in recent weeks with a series of mass protests along the Gaza border in which 32 Palestinians have been shot dead by Israeli troops since late March.
Hamas says the protests are aimed at breaking a crippling border blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt after the Islamist militant group overran Gaza in 2007, a year after winning Palestinian parliamentary elections. The group says it also aims to assert the right of refugees to return to their former homes in Israel.