Mustafa Thuraya

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Mustafa Thuraya, a freelance video journalist for Agence France-Presse (AFP) and other news outlets, was killed in an Israeli drone strike on January 7, 2024, along with and Hamza Al Dahdouh, a Palestinian journalist and cameraman for the Qatari-based broadcaster Al-Jazeera, according to media outlets. The strike targetedtheir car as they were returning from an assignment for Al-Jazeera in Nasr village, known locally as Moraj, northeast of Rafah in southern Gaza. Two Palestine Today TV journalists, Amer Abu Amr and Ahmed al-Bursh, told CPJ they witnessed the fatal attack. Abu Amr and al-Bursh were injured in another Israeli strike several minutes before the one that killed Thuraya and Al Dahdouh.

Al Dahdouh is the son of Gaza’s Al-Jazeera bureau chief, Wael Al Dahdouh, who had previously lost four other family members in Israeli attacks.

On the day of the attack, Al Dahdouh and Thuraya had made plans to join a group of more than 10 journalists, including Abu Amr and al-Bursh, to film the aftermath of an Israeli strike on the Abu al-Naja family home that occurred the night before, January 6,according to the two journalists. Abu Amr and al-Bursh told CPJ that the journalists had waited a day to film to avoid putting themselves at risk in case Israeli forces targeted the same house twice.

Al Dahdouh and Thuraya arrived at the scene at around 10:40 a.m. when rescuers were carrying bodies to an ambulance. Thuraya deployed a low-flying drone to film the area for about four minutes, according to Abu Amr and al-Bursh. Yasser Qudih, a freelance Palestinian journalist who was also there, confirmed the use of the drone.

As the journalists were leaving the scene, an Israeli drone fired a missile at around 11:01, injuring Abu Amr and al-Bursh. The two got into a nearby ambulance; video footage aired by the U.K.’s Channel 4 show al-Bursh in the vehicle wearing a press vest and wincing in pain. Abu Amr told CPJ he believed the strike was a warning meant to compel them to move away.

Abu Amr and al-Bursh were on their way to the hospital in the ambulance when a second Israeli drone struck the car behind them, carrying Thuraya, Al Dahdouh, a third journalist, Hazem Rajab, and their driver Qusai Salem. This second strike occurred about seven minutes after the first, according to Abu Amr. Al Dahdouh, Thuraya, and Salem were killed; Rajab was seriously injured.

The next day, January 8, the Israel Defense Forces Spokesperson’s Unit said that Al Dahdouh and Thuraya were traveling in the car with “a terrorist who operated an aircraft in a way that put IDF forces at risk,” according to the Times of Israel. The IDF added that it was aware of “the claim that during the strike two other suspects who were with the terrorist in the same vehicle were hit.”

CPJ emailed the North America desk of the IDF to identify the "terrorist" but did not receive a reply.

In response to an NBC News request asking for evidence that an individual in the vehicle was a terrorist, IDF spokesperson Daniel Hagari said that an investigation was under way. “Every journalist that dies it’s unfortunate,” he said. “We understand they were putting a drone, using a drone,” Hagari said. “And using a drone in a war zone, it’s a problem. It looks like the terrorists.” He added that Hamas uses drones to collect intelligence on Israeli forces. In the same NBC News report, Al-Jazeera managing editor Mohamed Moawad said that the journalists had not been flying a drone at the time they were killed.

On January 10, the IDF wrote on X that an Israeli military aircraft had fired on drone operators who were “posing a threat” to soldiers near Rafah, an assertion that Abu Amr, al-Bursh, and Qudih rejected in interviews with CPJ, saying that there were no Israeli troops in the area when Thuraya deployed the drone.

When asked by AFP about the kind of drones the two journalists were using and the type of threat they posed to Israeli troops, the IDF responded, “We have nothing to add.”

The IDF’s post on X continued to say that the “operators were later identified” as Thuraya and Al Dahdouh, and that Thuraya was a Squad Deputy Commander in Hamas while Al Dahdouh was a member of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group’s electronic engineering unit and previously served as a commander in the group’s Zeitun Battalion.

The IDF statement included an image of what it said was a document “found by our troops in Gaza” which included Al Dahdouh’s name on a list of Palestinian Islamic Jihad “operatives from the electronic engineering unit.” It did not share any documents showing Thuraya’s alleged links to Hamas.

Several experts have raised questions about the document referencing Al Dahdouh, telling the BBC that the use of English alongside Arabic was unusual. Erik Skare, author of a book on Palestinian Islamic Jihad told the network, “I regularly visited the website of the al-Quds Brigades… I have read their martyr biographies, their books, etc., and I have never seen the combination of English and Arabic text.”

A family member of Al Dahdouh told CPJ that he had no background in engineering, and provided CPJ with a digital copy of his bachelor’s degree, which showed he graduated from the media and communication technology department of University College of Applied Sciences in Gaza.

Al-Jazeera, the local Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, and Al Dahdouh and Thuraya’s families all rejected the characterization of the journalists as terrorists.

Al-Jazeera Media Network “strongly condemns and wholly rejects – and indeed expresses its very considerable surprise at – the Israeli army’s false and misleading attempts to justify the killing of our colleague Hamza Wael Al Dahdouh and other journalists,” it said in a statement to NBC News.

Al Dahdouh, “like so many journalists before him, was killed simply for doing his job and for shining a light on events that the Israeli army would rather stay in the dark and hidden from scrutiny,” the network told Middle East Eye.

Al Dahdouh’s family told the BBC, "It is clear that these are Israeli fabrications in an attempt to defend themselves and justify the targeting of Hamza and the journalists and divert the issue from its track to make it appear that it is not targeting journalists."

"Hamza has been working as a journalist for many years, and during this war he was doing his journalistic work and was displaced with his colleagues and family like other Palestinians," the family added.

Thuraya’s cousin, Muhammad Thuraya, dismissed the IDF’s claim as a “false accusation,” according to Le Monde, saying that the journalist operated a drone for taking photos and videos, which he sold to local and international news agencies. “He was an ambitious and professional young man who was known among journalists for his work,” Muhammad Thuraya said.

The Palestinian Journalists Syndicate said that the journalists were killed simply because "they were journalists” and said Israel was attempting to "mislead and fabricate confusing narratives" about the pair. The syndicate said that Al Dahdouh’s family had told it that the journalist had received Israeli military permission to travel out of Gaza two days before he was killed. “[Why do] occupation authorities give a person security approval to travel if he is wanted, while everyone knows that the occupation authorities ban the travel of wanted persons?”

On January 26, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders issued a statementexpressing concerns that human rights defenders, including journalists, "appear to have been directly targeted,” citing the “direct missile strike” on the car carrying Al Dahdouh and Thuraya. Given the limitations on foreign correspondents covering Gaza, “the work of local journalists is vital,” the rapporteur, who was not named, said. “I fear they are being targeted as a result.”

On February 1, U.N. Human Rights Council experts expressed alarm at “disturbing reports” of attacks against journalists wearing press insignia, and said it seemingly indicates a “‘deliberate strategy’ by Israeli forces to obstruct the media and silence critical reporting.”

CPJ has documented numerous incidents in which the Israeli military has accused journalists it killed of militant activity without evidence.

The IDF’s North America desk did not respond to emailed requests for comment about its response to the killings, its targeting of individuals using drones, claims about the authenticity of the documentation it provided on Al Dahdouh’s alleged terrorist links, and Al Dahdouh’s approval to leave Gaza.