Palestinian electrical engineer Fadi al-Batsh was on his way to a mosque outside Malaysia’s capital for dawn prayers when he was shot dead by a helmeted attacker on a motorcycle.
Hamas, the Palestinian militant and political organization that governs the Gaza Strip, blamed Israel for Mr. Batsh’s death on Saturday, calling it an assassination. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said Mr. Batsh was a member of the group, with “an honorable reputation in science.”
An Israeli government spokesman declined to comment. Israel’s defense minister, Avigdor Lieberman, on Sunday told Israeli radio Mr. Batsh was “no saint” and that he likely had been killed in “a settling of scores among terrorist organizations.” Israel and the U.S. have officially labeled Hamas a terrorist group.
Mr. Batsh, 35 years old, was a senior lecturer at the University of Kuala Lumpur and did research on power management in a variety of areas, from batteries and solar systems to electrical grids.
He was the co-author of a paper published in 2014 on the Institute of Physics’ online platform IOPscience that focused on the challenges of providing a stable power supply for unmanned aerial vehicles to make them more reliable.
The university where he taught was closed Sunday and no one was available to respond to questions about Mr. Batsh’s work. Mr. Batsh’s family said he wasn’t a member of Hamas.
The use of drones by Israel’s adversaries, for surveillance and as weapons, has become an increasing concern for Israel’s armed forces. Last year, an Israeli warplane shot down a drone the government said was launched by Hamas in Gaza and was nearing Israeli airspace.
Malaysia’s deputy prime minister, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, said Mr. Batsh might have been viewed as a threat by a country “in conflict with the Palestinians.”
Malaysian state media quoted Mr. Ahmad Zahid as saying Mr. Batsh was an expert on “rockets.” Mr. Ahmad Zahid said the killers were believed to be Europeans linked to a foreign intelligence agency.
Police in Malaysia say they are investigating. They said the gunman fired 10 shots at Mr. Batsh before escaping with the driver of the motorcycle.
In Gaza on Sunday, members of Mr. Batsh’s family and others gathered in a tent below a sign reading: “Qassam Brigades mourns its martyred leader. The engineer Fadi Mohammed al-Batsh.” The Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades is Hamas’s military wing. Armed members of the group attended.
Mr. Batsh’s father, who was in the tent on Sunday, said his son wasn’t part of the group and didn’t work on drones or rockets. He said he blamed Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency for his son’s death. “Its main goal is to assassinate every Arab and Muslim brain, especially the Palestinian ones.”
As Israel has improved its defenses against rocket attacks and improved its ability to detect and destroy tunnels used by Hamas militants to enter Israel to conduct guerrilla attacks, Hamas has sought new weapons, Israeli defense analysts say.
“Since Israel has successfully developed defense systems against the rockets and the missiles and…new technological regarding terror tunnels, Hamas was left almost with nothing,” said Kobi Michael, research fellow at the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies.
He said drones armed with explosives present a more serious threat than rockets and missiles because they can fly low and evade antimissile systems like Israel’s Iron Dome.
In addition to the drone downed last year, Israel’s army has said that it intercepted a drone off Gaza’s coast in 2015. The year before, Israel shot down an alleged Hamas drone hovering above the Israeli port of Ashdod.
In December 2016, Hamas accused Israeli secret-service agents of shooting dead Mohammed al-Zouari in Tunisia. He was a member of Hamas and supervised the group’s drone program, Hamas has said. Israel didn’t make any official comment on the killing.
Israel in February also shot down an Iranian drone that breached its airspace and earlier this month mounted airstrikes on a Syrian air base hosting unmanned aerial vehicles.
Israel has long suspected Hamas officials have trained and developed new technologies in Muslim-majority Malaysia.
The Israeli internal security service in 2014 said it arrested a Hamas operative who allegedly disclosed that the group sent a team to Malaysia in 2010 to learn how to paraglide into Israeli territory to launch attacks.
Hamas denied training personnel in Malaysia. Malaysia has said it doesn’t have a military relationship with Hamas or any other group in the Palestinian territories.
The suburb where Mr. Batsh and his family lived is home to a large immigrant community, with many mostly-Muslim visiting students from Africa and the Middle East, who attend the International Islamic University Malaysia nearby.
In all, there are around 3,000 Palestinians in Kuala Lumpur, many of them students, according to the Palestinian Cultural Organization in Malaysia.
Hafidzi Noor, who volunteered with Mr. Batsh at a local charity, said he doubted he could have posed a threat to anyone.
“He was a highflier who had the potential to build up the renewable-energy sector in Gaza. He had high aspirations,” Mr. Noor said.