Many Fatah and Hamas activists in the Gaza Strip have expressed relief over the death of Mu'taz Dughmush, one of the commanders of the Army of Islam terrorist group, who was killed by an IAF strike on his vehicle Tuesday.
Mu'taz and five other Palestinians were killed in two IAF attacks. All the dead belonged to the Army of Islam and Islamic Jihad.
Dughmush was considered by both Fatah and Hamas "one of the biggest murderers and thugs," sources in the Gaza Strip told The Jerusalem Post.
The two groups had tried to kill Dughmush several times in the past two years, they said.
His older brother, Mumtaz, is the founder and commander of the Army of Islam, a tiny group that sprouted up in the Gaza Strip nearly two years ago and that is said to be linked to al-Qaida. Mumtaz Dughmush is described by some Palestinians as the Palestinian Zarqawi, a reference to slain Jordanian arch-terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi.
The Army of Islam has been behind a series of attacks on various institutions in Gaza, including some owned by Christians. Its members were also behind the killing of several Hamas and Fatah officials and the abduction of more than 20 foreigners in the Strip over the past two years.
It was also one of the groups that took credit for the 2006 abduction of IDF soldier Cpl. Gilad Schalit.
"We are talking about one of the most dangerous groups of mercenaries in the Gaza Strip," a Fatah official said in Ramallah. "These guys carried out many political assassinations and gruesome killings of innocent people."
According to the official, Mu'taz, who was nicknamed Abu Majd, was personally involved in the assassination of Gen. Jad Tayeh of the Palestinian Authority's General Intelligence Force and four of his aides in September 2006.
"Mu'taz carried out the assassination on orders from Hamas," the Fatah official said. "He even stole Tayeh's pistol while he was bleeding before shooting him in the head."
The official claimed that Mu'taz was also behind the killing of three children who were on their way to school in Gaza City in December 2006. The children were the sons of a top Fatah operative, General Intelligence officer Baha Ba'lousheh, and the killings are believed to have been ordered by Fatah dissidents.
Mu'taz and his gang were also involved in the recent execution-style killing of Hussein Abu Sharekh, a Fatah activist from the Jabalya refugee camp in the Gaza Strip.
Eyewitnesses said the victim was shot in the head several times in front of his home.
Hamas officials denied any connection to Mu'taz, although some admitted that in the past he had been a member of the movement's armed wing, Izzadin Kassam.
"He was kicked out of Hamas many years ago," a senior Hamas official said. "He and his brother Mumtaz have since been operating as an independent group."
The Hamas official said his movement had tried to arrest Mu'taz several times in the past few months. "He was wanted for his role in a number of crimes," he added. "As far as we know, Mu'taz and the Army of Islam started operating under the Fatah security forces, which used them to do the dirty work for them in the Gaza Strip."
He said that one of those operations was the September 2005 assassination of Gen. Musa Arafat, the former head of the PA Military Intelligence and a cousin of former PA leader Yasser Arafat.
Another Hamas official said that Mu'taz and his brother used to kidnap foreigners in the Gaza Strip on behalf of Fatah security commanders who wanted to "destroy Hamas's reputation" and get ransom money from the victims' governments and employers.
The last victim was BBC correspondent Alan Johnston, who was kidnapped by the Dughmush brothers and released only after Hamas took full control of the Gaza Strip in June 2007.
Rumors in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday had it that Mu'taz had been killed as part of the Egyptian-brokered cease-fire agreement between Hamas and Israel. According to the rumors, Hamas, which was desperate to get rid of the Army of Islam, decided to "give away" Mu'taz as a sign of the movement's seriousness in striking a deal with Israel.
"Mu'taz is not being revered as a shahid [martyr]," said a Palestinian reporter in the Gaza Strip. "Many here see him as a thug and merciless killer. The reaction of many people to his death has been, 'Good riddance!'"
Mu'taz had "a lot of Palestinian blood on his hands," the reporter said, and both Hamas and Fatah, which once used his services, were now celebrating his death at the hands of Israel.
"Both parties have been trying to catch him or kill him, but in the end Israel did the job for them," he said. "I don't believe anyone will miss Mu'taz Dughmush."