The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) said on Thursday it was holding a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship who had posed as a foreign fighter in order to spy for Mossad, an account denied by Israel and the man’s family, who said he had been kidnapped.
In an interview published by ISIS’s online English-language magazine Dabiq, Mohammed Musallam, 19, 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 ISIS commanders, Musallam was quoted as saying, he broke cover by phoning his father in East Jerusalem, leading to his capture.
“I say to all those who want to spy on the Islamic State, don’t think that you’re so smart and that you can deceive the Islamic State. You won’t succeed at all,” Dabiq quoted him as saying, using a different name for ISIS.
“Stay away from this path. Stay away from helping the Jews and the murtaddin (apostates). Follow the right path.”
Musallam’s father, Said, denied his son was a spy, saying he went missing after traveling as a tourist to Turkey. Mohammed then phoned home, saying he had been abducted and taken to neighboring Syria but could buy his way out, his father said.
“He said, ‘Dad, I need $200 or $300 so they will let me go,'” Said Musallam told Reuters. Before he could send the money, he said, another man phoned to inform him Mohammed had escaped his captors but had been seized by ISIS.
An Israeli security official claimed Musallam traveled to Turkey on October 24 in order to fight for ISIS 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.”
Israel has stepped up monitoring and prosecution of its Palestinian citizens, which constitute 20 percent of the population in Occupied Palestine, claiming concern that 1948 Palestinians might travel to Syria or Iraq to join Islamist insurgent groups and then return radicalized and battle-ready.
Turkey draws many Palestinians with Israeli citizenship holidaymakers. It is also a major conduit for foreigners who slip across the border to help insurgents fight against the Syrian army.
Mohammed Musallam worked as a firefighter, his family said. A friend of his who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity said Musallam had posted pro-ISIS messages on social media. Reuters could find no social media accounts under Musallam’s name.
In the first conviction of its kind, Israel in November jailed Ahmed Shurbaji, a 1948 Palestinian who returned voluntarily after spending three months with ISIS in Syria.
He received a relatively light term of 22 months in return for cooperation with security services according to the court, in a possible allusion to information he provided about ISIS.
A source in the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security agency, said Palestinians with Israeli citizenship returning from Syria were routinely questioned for intelligence on jihadist groups.
Shurbaji had phoned an Israeli security official from Syria to broker a deal. The Shin Bet source said such communications with 1948 Palestinians who wanted to return from Syria had sometimes been handled by Ayoob Kara, an Israeli Druze politician and former army officer close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Contacted by Reuters, Kara said he was aware of Musallam’s case and did not believe he was a Mossad spy.
While declining to discuss Musallam in detail, Kara said he knew of several young Palestinians with Israeli citizenship who had gone to Syria to aid refugees or for the thrill of being in a warzone, only to be kidnapped and exploited by insurgents like ISIS.
Over the past months, there have been several claims and stories about young men from occupied 1948 Palestine joining ISIS.
In late October, Shin Bet said that a Bedouin doctor has been killed fighting for ISIS in Syria.
Abdul-Qiyan, a 26-year-old Palestinian with Israeli citizenship from the Palestinian Bedouin village of Hura, studied medicine in Jordan and worked as an intern at an Israeli hospital, had died in the fighting in August.
Aside from direct military action, Israel’s role in the Syrian conflict has reportedly included relations with rebel groups, as several reports claimed that some of these groups maintain frequent contact with the Israeli military forces.