SIDON, Lebanon (AP) – A car bomb killed a leader of Islamic Jihad, a Palestinian militant group whose suicide bombers have defied a truce with Israel and killed 34 people in the past year.
Islamic Jihad blamed Israeli intelligence and vowed to retaliate for Friday’s attack, which killed its leader in southern Lebanon, Mahmoud Majzoub, and his brother, Nidal. Lebanon’s Prime Minister Fouad Seniora condemned the killings and pledged to “exert all efforts to punish the aggressors.” He indicated that Israel was the primary suspect.
Islamic Jihad’s representative in Lebanon, Abu Imad Rifai, vowed a harsh response and said it would come from “the brothers inside,” meaning Islamic Jihad members in Gaza or the West Bank.
The militant group’s No. 2, Ziad al-Nakhalah, confirmed the threat to Israel. “Islamic Jihad has far-reaching arms and can get the enemy and its institutions anywhere,” the Damascus-based al-Nakhalah said in a fax to The Associated Press in Gaza.
Rifai rejected the possibility that other Palestinian or Lebanese groups could have killed Majzoub. “No one has an interest in assassinating him except the Israeli Mossad,” he told the AP.
In Israel, military officials said they had heard of the bombing in media reports, but had no additional information.
Mahmoud Majzoub was leaving his apartment building in central Sidon with his brother when a bomb in a parked car was detonated by remote control, Lebanese security officials said.
Nidal Majzoub, 39, was killed instantly. Mahmoud Majzoub, 41, was rushed to a hospital and died during surgery, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
The bomb was made of 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of high explosives, packed for maximum impact, the officials said. It shattered the windows of several nearby apartment buildings in this port city, 25 miles (40 kilometers) south of Beirut. Lebanese police and soldiers sealed off the area and used dogs to search for more bombs.
“I rushed to the balcony after hearing the blast only to see black smoke billowing from a car,” said Omran Kaddoura, a 16-year-old resident. After running down six flights of stairs to the street, he “found the two bloodied men lying on the ground in front of the car.” Mahmoud Majzoub was head of recruitment for Islamic Jihad and a member of its policy-making Shura Council. He was a Lebanese citizen; it is not uncommon for Lebanese to join Palestinian militant groups.
Friday’s bombing was the second attempt to kill him. In 1998, he and his wife and infant son were wounded when their booby-trapped car detonated in Sidon, wounding a passer-by. Islamic Jihad blamed Israel for that blast.
Islamic Jihad refused to recognize the truce with Israel declared in February 2005. While the rival militant group Hamas abided by the cease-fire, Islamic Jihad argued that violence was a legitimate response to Israeli actions. Islamic Jihad has claimed responsibility for eight of the nine suicide bombings in Israel since the truce. Its latest strike was an April 17 attack on a Tel Aviv restaurant that killed nine people, including an American teenager.
The eight bombings killed a total of 28 Israelis, two Palestinians and four foreigners, including the American. Friday’s killing was the first of a senior Palestinian official in Lebanon since the assassination of Abdullah Shreidi, an Islamic fundamentalist leader, in May 2003. Palestinians have blamed Israel for the assassinations of several militant leaders. The killing of the chief of Islamic Jihad, Fathi Shekaki, in Malta in 1995 was widely attributed to Israel.
But some of the killings of leading Palestinians were the result of internal feuds. Islamic Jihad is currently led by Ramadan Shallah, a Palestinian from Gaza who lives in Syria. It considers the 1979 Iranian Revolution to be the beginning of a new era for the Muslim world and wants to turn all of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza into an Islamic state.