Saturday, October 09, 2004

(Former?) Al Aqsa terrorist speaks

While the Islamic groups are vowing to fight to the end, one wanted militant from the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades believes the Palestinian Intifada or uprising has achieved nothing.

In an interview with AM he says Israel has been successful in crushing the resistance, leaving his group a leaderless rabble involved in extortion and kidnapping.

Middle East Correspondent Mark Willacy reports from the West Bank.

MARK WILLACY: Well, I've just been driven by a Palestinian contact to a house here in the West Bank village, to meet a man who used to be a gunman in the al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigades. He's wanted by the Israelis for carrying out a number of attacks against Jewish targets.

But Abu Yasser, as he wants to be called, says he's turned his back both on violence and the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.

Over some thick black Arabic coffee, Abu Yasser tells me how he began carrying out attacks for the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades just months after the intifada broke out.

"The al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades is composed of a number of de-centralised cells," he says.

"Our cell was made up of gunmen who would shoot at Israelis – both soldiers and civilians – who came into our area," he tells me.

Throughout our interview Abu Yasser's leg shakes almost uncontrollably. He knows he's a hunted man. But the 29-year-old says he left the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades months ago, disillusioned with the direction the militant group was heading.

"The al-Aqsa Brigades here in the West Bank has lost its leadership. There's no one left to lead," he says.

And what remains has split into two groups – one that wants to stop the killing and start talking and another that is made up of thugs.

"These thugs steal, kidnap and run protections rackets," he says. "The Palestinian people now fear the al-Aqsa Brigades rather than respect them," he tells me.

A recent poll commissioned by a Nablus University found that more than two-thirds of Palestinians believe it's time to end the killing and sign a ceasefire with Israel. Previous polls had found that most wanted to continue the fighting.

Abu Yasser says ordinary Palestinians are tired of the killing. And the former al-Aqsa Brigades gunman says he's tired of hiding.

"Psychologically I have become used to running from the Israelis," he says. "What keeps me going is thinking of my family and how they would cope if I was arrested or killed," he tells me.

Israel will certainly never forget Abu Yasser and the dozens of attacks he helped carry out. But it's only a matter of time when they come hunting for him once again.