The Shadow Unit: Meet the Hamas division likely holding Israeli and American hostages

On Oct. 7, a significant attack by Palestinian terrorist groups led by Hamas resulted in the abduction of approximately 155 civilian and Israeli soldiers in southern Israel. Although the exact number of abductees held by Hamas is undisclosed, they are likely being overseen by a covert group known as the Shadow Unit (وحدة الظل).

While information on the group is limited, what is known is noteworthy. In 2016, Hamas disclosed the existence of a dedicated unit to hold hostages and is commanded by Hamas leader Muhammed Deif. This unit was formed in response to the abduction of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit by Hamas, the Popular Resistance Committees, and the Army of Islam in 2006.

In addition, it is believed that Avira Mengistu and Hisham Sayyed, two Israelis who entered Gaza of their own accord in 2014 and 2015, are currently being detained by the group with no clear end to their captivity.

In July 2022, Abu Obeida, the spokesperson of Hamas, said that during the Gaza conflict in May 2021, a fighter belonging to the Shadow Unit was slain in an Israeli airstrike. Furthermore, Obeida disclosed that the strike also wounded three other fighters from the same unit.

Furthermore, according to reports from Arabic-language media, the Shadow Unit has lost five of its members to Israeli airstrikes since 2008, namely Sami al-Hamayda, Abdullah Labad, Khaled Abu Bakra, Muhammad Rashid Daoud, and Abdul Rahman Mubasher.

The number of hostages held by the group remains unknown, but there are growing concerns that the unit lacks the necessary resources to manage a significant number of captives.

Adding to the complexity of a possible hostage rescue mission is the presence of other armed factions who have also taken individuals captive.

Islamic Jihad claims to have over 30 hostages under their control, whereas the Popular Resistance Committees have confirmed through a message on their Telegram channel that they, too, possess hostages. Moreover, a distressing video released by the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades exhibits an injured individual accompanied by a terrorist, seemingly en route to Gaza.

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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