Rami Ayyad (Courtesy Baptist Press)

JERUSALEM – A senior Hamas militant is suspected of torturing and killing the manager of a Christian bookstore in the Gaza Strip who was found dead last month, according to Palestinian security officials.

The body of Rami Ayyad, who managed the only Christian bookstore in Gaza, was discovered last month riddled with gunshot and stab wounds. Ayyad, a Baptist, was accused by Gaza-based Islamic groups of engaging in missionary activities. His bookstore, owned by the Palestinian Bible Society, was firebombed in April after which he told relatives he received numerous death threats from Islamists.

The day of his abduction, Ayyad reportedly said he was being followed by a car that had no license plates.

Security officials associated with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah organization told WND yesterday there is information Ashraf Abu Layla, the central Gaza chief of Hamas’ so-called military wing, the Izz al-Din Al Qassam Brigades, was behind the murder which is widely viewed as an anti-Christian attack.

The security officials said Hamas forces closed the investigation into the death of Ayyad in spite of what they said was evidence of Layla’s involvement.

A Hamas spokesman denied the accusation while a top member of Hamas’ “military wing,” contacted by WND and speaking on condition of anonymity, would neither confirm nor deny his group was behind the Ayyad killing.

Hamas and Fatah have been at odds since last June, when Hamas took complete control of the Gaza Strip, seizing all U.S.-backed Fatah security compounds.

Last month, WND quoted witnesses stating Ayyad was publicly tortured a few blocks from his store before he was shot to death.

The witnesses said they saw three armed men, two of whom were wearing masks, beat Ayyad repeatedly with clubs and the butts of their guns while they accused him of attempting to spread Christianity in Gaza. The witnesses said that after sustaining the beating, Ayyad was shot by all three men.

Ayyad left behind a pregnant wife and two young children. No group has taken responsibility for the attack.

Christians warned: Accept Islamic law

Sheik Abu Saqer, leader of Jihadia Salafiya, an Islamic outreach movement that recently announced the opening of a “military wing” to enforce Muslim law in Gaza, told WND in a recent interview all Christians in Gaza engaged in missionary activity will be “dealt with harshly.”

Jihadia Salafiya, allied with Hamas, is suspected of a slew of Islamist attacks, including firebombing Internet cafes and one in May against a United Nations school in Gaza after it allowed boys and girls to participate in the same sporting event. One person was killed in that attack.

When Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in June, there were widespread fears it would impose hardline Islamic rule in the territory, and that life for Christians might deteriorate.

About 3,000 Christians live in the Gaza Strip, which has a population of over 1 million.

Immediately after Hamas’ Gaza coup, Abu Saqer told WND in an exclusive interview Christians could continue living safely in the Gaza Strip only if they accepted Islamic law, including a ban on alcohol and on women roaming publicly without proper head coverings.

“[Now that Hamas is in power,] the situation has changed 180 degrees in Gaza,” said Abu Saqer, speaking from Gaza.

“Jihadia Salafiya and other Islamic movements will ensure Christian schools and institutions show publicly what they are teaching to be sure they are not carrying out missionary activity,” he said.

Abu Saqer accused the leadership of the Gaza Christian community of “proselytizing and trying to convert Muslims with funding from American evangelicals.”

“This missionary activity is endangering the entire Christian community in Gaza,” he said.

Abu Saqer claimed there was “no need” for the thousands of Christians in Gaza to maintain a large number of institutions in the territory.

He said Hamas “must work to impose an Islamic rule or it will lose the authority it has and the will of the people.”

To interview Aaron Klein, contact Tim Bueler Public Relations by e-mail, or call (530) 401-3285.

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