JERUSALEM – A clan from the Gaza Strip with members involved in major terror organizations are lead suspects in the kidnapping of Fox News reporter Steve Centanni and cameraman Olaf Wiig, according to senior Palestinian security officials.
The officials say their investigation into the abductions has led them to the Dugmash family, based in Khan Yunis and Gaza City. They say they have “evidence” the clan was “heavily involved.”
Members of the Dugmash clan lead the “Saladin resistance department” of the Popular Resistance Committees, a coalition of terror organizations operating in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
The Committees is accused of orchestrating attacks along with groups affiliated with al-Qaida and has carried out anti-American attacks. Israel says the Committees was responsible for the bombing of a U.S. convoy in Gaza in 2003 in which three American government contractors were killed.
Some members of the Dugmash family left the Committees earlier this year, complaining the group was not “Muslim enough.” They formed a new organization, the Palestine Army of Islam, which bills itself as the closest Palestinian organization ideologically to al-Qaida. The Army of Islam is one of three terror groups that claimed responsibility in June for the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
Abu Muhammad, speaking from Gaza, would not say whether his group was involved in the Fox News kidnappings, but he said he understood the “necessity” of carrying out the abductions.
“This support of America brought the killing of thousands of Palestinians and Muslims all around history. We cannot ignore the atrocities of the Americans in killing Palestinians and Muslims all over the world,” said Abu Mohammed.
“We can understand very well our brothers who made this act (of kidnapping) was a desperate act in order to cry out in front of the whole world against the atrocities of the Americans in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, and Palestine and the subjugation of Muslims all over the region.”
In the interview, Abu Muhammad blasted Fox News, claiming the media outlet is “controlled by the Zionist lobby and the Jews.”
Israeli security officials say they suspect elements of Palestinian groups ideologically close to al-Qaida, likely working with members of the Popular Resistance Committees, are involved in the kidnapping.
Last week, within hours of the abductions, Abu Abir, spokesman for the Committees, denied to WorldNetDaily his group was behind the kidnappings but hinted “other groups” are involved.
“Don’t be surprised if other groups are helping out,” Abu Abir said.
The Committees spokesman said it was “possible” Centanni and Wiig were taken from Gaza into the neighboring Egyptian Sinai desert, which is known to be a stronghold for groups working on behalf of al-Qaida. Egyptian and Palestinian guards are stationed along Egypt-Gaza crossings, but security officials say many border areas are penetrable.
After nearly two weeks of silence, an unknown Palestinian terror organization yesterday took credit for kidnapping Centanni and Wiig.
The Holy Jihad Battalion says they have the two Fox News employees. Analysts are speculating the group is a front for al-Qaida.
The Holy Jihad released a statement to news agencies in which they demanded Muslim prisoners in U.S. jails be freed within three days in exchange for Centanni and Wiig. The group did not say what would happen if the deadline passed unanswered.
“We are going to exchange the Muslim female and male prisoners in American jails in return for the prisoners that we have. We are going to give you 72 hours beginning midnight tonight to take your decision,” said the statement. “If you implement and meet our condition, we will fulfill our promise. If not, wait, and we are going to wait.”
Al Jazeera aired a video of Centanni and Wiig in which the men sat on the floor in sweatsuits and appeared to be in good health. No armed men were seen.