Said Musallam, an Israeli Arab whose son, Muhammad, is being held by Islamic State in Syria as an alleged spy, holds his photograph in his east Jerusalem home .
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The family of an Israeli Arab youth has rejected a claim made by Islamic State that the young man had been operating as a Mossad agent spying on the radical group, which prompted his alleged capture by the terrorist organization.
Islamic State said on Thursday it was holding an Israeli Arab who had posed as a foreign fighter in order to spy for Mossad.
In an alleged interview published by Islamic State's online English-language magazine Dabiq, 19-year old Muhammad Musallam purportedly said he had joined the insurgent group in Syria so as to report to the Israelis on its weapons caches, bases and Palestinian recruits.
After his conduct aroused the suspicion of Islamic State commanders, Musallam was quoted as saying, he broke cover by phoning his father in east Jerusalem, leading to his capture.
Speaking at the family home, Musallam's father Said denied his son was a spy, saying he went missing after traveling as a tourist to Turkey.
"My son went to Turkey for a vacation and he told me that he was kidnapped by IS in Syria and that's it. He told me that he has been to many places in Syria and that he wants to come home. Somebody told him that he was going to take him home. He tried to come back but IS held him. Last time someone talked to me and said that my son was in an IS jail, in Talabiad Jail. I never heard from him again," he said.
Musallam's mother, Um Ahmad, said she had only just found out her son may be being held by Islamic State.
"I just heard about it. I didn't know. I didn't know. Muhammad can't be working for Jews (Israelis) or anyone else, and he is not interested in politics. Muhammad loves his home and work and he has few friends. I can't believe that he would do such a thing. Muhammad is very special and unique," she said.
"Muhammad is a poor guy, he can't be doing that," she added.
An Israeli security official said Musallam traveled to Turkey on October 24 in order to fight for Islamic State in Syria.
"He went on his own initiative, without his family's knowledge," the official told Reuters. Asked whether his statement constituted a denial that Musallam was an Israeli spy, the official said: "You can understand it that way, yes."
Worried that members of its 20-percent Arab minority might travel to Syria or Iraq to join Islamist insurgent groups and then return radicalized and battle-ready, Israel has stepped up monitoring and prosecution of suspected would-be volunteers.
Turkey draws many holidaymakers from the region. It is also a major conduit for foreigners who slip across the border to help insurgents trying to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Muhammad Musallam worked as an Israeli firefighter, his family said. A friend of his who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity said Musallam had posted pro-Islamic State messages on social media. Reuters could find no social media accounts under Musallam's name.
A source in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) said Israeli Arabs returning from Syria were routinely questioned for intelligence on jihadi groups.