A month ago, the family of a young Palestinian man was horrified to discover his photo on the cover of Dabiq, the Islamic State magazine, with an interview inside purporting to detail his recruitment by Israel’s spy agency, Mossad.
This week, the family’s worst fears were realized when an Islamic State video showed a child shooting Muhammad Musallam in the back of the head, killing him.
As they mourned Wednesday at their home in East Jerusalem, family members denied that Musallam, who was 19 or 20, had any ties to Israeli intelligence and said he was lured to Syria by the extremist organization with false promises.
“They promised him money, marriage and good conditions but he saw none of these,” his brother, Ahmad Musallam, told Israeli media. “He escaped them but was captured. God will deal with them.
“My brother was a little boy with no interest in religion or politics,” he added. “Daesh duped him and took advantage of him.” Daesh is the Arabic acronym for Islamic State.
Israeli authorities condemned the killing and denied that Musallam had any ties to Mossad.
“This is a tragedy we see throughout the Middle East, with murder in Syria, Iraq, Sinai and elsewhere at the hands of Islamic extremists,” Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon told Israel Radio.
“It appears that this young man from Beit Hanina was executed,” Yaalon said, referring to Musallam’s Jerusalem neighborhood. “But he has no connection to Mossad or any other Israeli intelligence.”
In France, news media reported that authorities believe the child shown shooting Musallam and an adult who speaks in the video are French citizens, and the adult may be related to an Islamist extremist who killed seven people in and around the French city of Toulouse in 2012. The victims included three Jewish children shot at a school. The suspect, Mohamed Merah, was killed by police.
The adult in the video was identified by David Thomson, a journalist with the French radio station RFI and a specialist in French jihadists, and by the Lebanese-based French terrorism expert Romain Caillet. The shooter appears to be a boy of about 12 or 14.
The Agence France Presse news agency said it was told by two police sources that the man, who spoke with a Toulouse accent, “resembled” a relative of Merah.
“It’s most probably him, but we’re carrying out some analysis,” an official source told the news agency, speaking on condition of anonymity.
In the 10-minute video, the adult declares the prisoner “an evil apostate spy” suspected of working for Mossad, after which the boy shoots the kneeling man.
France 3 radio reported that it had been told that the child, dressed in a camouflage tunic, was also French, but that French intelligence had not yet established a link between the boy and the older man.
In Washington, White House spokesman Josh Earnest called the killing an “abhorrent and unjustifiable action,” adding that it showed “disregard for all human decency” to have a child carry it out.
“That is an indication that we're continuing to apply pressure to ISIL in a way that is actually succeeding in degrading their ability to wreak havoc in that part of the world,” Earnest said, using another acronym for the militant group.
Special correspondent Sobelman reported from Jerusalem and Willsher from Paris.