Israeli officials said Wednesday that their forces killed a senior Palestinian commander from an Al Qaeda-affiliated Islamist group in the Gaza Strip as he was planning a terrorist attack against Israeli and American targets in Egypt's Sinai peninsula.
The militant, identified as Mohammed Jamal Namnam, 25, was a leader of the Army of Islam, a fringe group in Gaza that has claimed responsibility for recent rocket attacks against Israel and a role in the 2006 kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
"He was a ticking bomb," said Lt. Col. Avital Leibovitz, a military spokeswoman. She declined to provide details of the Sinai attack Namnam was suspected of plotting.
Namnam was killed in a car explosion Wednesday outside the police headquarters of Hamas, the armed Palestinian group that controls Gaza. Two militants were injured.
Witnesses gave conflicting reports about whether the explosion was caused by a bomb inside the car or an Israeli airstrike. Military officials would not comment on how the strike was carried out.
"The sound and fireball were massive," said taxi driver Mohammed Barbari, who said he was driving behind the car when it exploded. He said he escaped harm only because he stopped 100 yards away to pick up passengers.
The explosion flipped the car upside down and left a large crater in the road, witnesses said.
Though Hamas officials criticized the strike as the latest Israeli assassination, their organization has had its own problems with the Army of Islam, which is one of several smaller extremist groups in Gaza that have accused Hamas of growing too soft and abandoning its roots as a resistance movement.
As recently as last week, Hamas leaders warned the fringe groups to suspend their rocket attacks against southern Israel. Last year, Hamas soldiers clashed with another extremist group in a battle that killed about two dozen militants.
Officials from the Army of Islam declined to comment Wednesday.
Special correspondent Rushdi abu Alouf in the Gaza Strip contributed to this report.