Hamas fighter with American citizenship killed in recent Gaza conflict

Osama al-Zebda

An American citizen known as Osama al-Zebda was fighting with the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the so-called “armed wing” of Hamas, during the recent battle in Gaza. An official confirmed this with FDD’s Long War Journal, adding that al-Zebda was on a U.S. terrorist watch list.

Al-Zebda was killed by an Israeli air strike on May 12. His father – an al-Qassam commander named Jamal al-Zebda – was also killed in the strike. 

This fits a pattern of Americans who joined Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs), which is illegal pursuant to U.S. law. Other Americans to join terror groups include Adam Gadahn (killed in a U.S. drone strike while serving as a senior Al Qaeda leader), Anwar al Awlaki (killed in a U.S. drone strike while serving as a senior leader in Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula), John Georgelas (a senior Islamic State propagandist killed in Syria), and John Walker Lindh (captured while fighting alongside the Taliban).

Osama al-Zebda appears to have been the target of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) military campaign against leaders and commanders of militant factions in Gaza. Multiple commanders and mid-level Hamas militants were reportedly killed during the 10-day operation.

It is unclear if Osama was born in the U.S. or was a naturalized citizen. However, Jamal, was described by the IDF’s Hebrew-language site as a ‘senior member of Hamas’ research and development division,’ adding that he earned a ‘PhD in Mechanical Engineering, specializing in aerodynamics.’

A paper written by Jamal al-Zebda on aerodynamics at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in 1989 appears on the Aerospace Research Center’s website, suggesting Osama’s father was possibly in the United States either studying or working there. However, FDD’s Long War Journal could not independently verify if it was written by the same person.

On May 12, Palestinian social media channels began circulating pictures of Osama al-Zebda and his father Jamal al-Zebda. The social media posts described the son and father as ‘martyrs’ who were involved in a ‘targeting’ operation by Israel. A social media post from May 19, posted by someone claiming to be the wife of Osama, claimed he was an American.

Al-Qassam Brigades officially acknowledged the death of Osama on Monday, and referred to him as a ‘commander’ in the militant group.

In an interview on a Palestinian media network, family members described Osama as a ‘military man outside the house,’ and that both father and son were engineers.

The killing of Osama and his father suggests that Hamas may have sent militants to study in foreign education institutions to bolster its military capabilities. In 2018, Fadi al-Batsh, a Hamas engineer studying abroad, was assassinated by the Mossad in Malaysia. According to a report, al-Batsh was allegedly helping Hamas develop rockets.

This article was updated to reflect that al-Qassam Brigades has officially announced that Osama was a member of the group.

Joe Truzman is an editor and senior research analyst at FDD's Long War Journal focused primarily on Palestinian armed groups and non-state actors in the Middle East.

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