|Relatives sit underneath posters of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh [EPA]|
Approximately 10 months ago, Al Jazeera Arabic interviewed a man in Damascus, Syria who was believed to be part of a cell that had kidnapped and killed two Israeli soldiers, Avi Sasportas and Ilan Sa’adon, in 1989.
Al Jazeera has since learned that the man – who kept his face covered for the interview – was Mahmoud Abdul Raouf al-Mabhouh, a Hamas military commander who was killed in Dubai on January 20.
Al-Mabhouh had been one of Israel’s most wanted people for 20 years and was accused of being responsible for a number of operations, including the kidnapping and killing of the two soldiers.
Hamas has alleged that al-Mabhouh was assassinated by Israeli agents.
Below is the interview conducted with al-Mabhouh last year.
“I am not the only wanted man. Hundreds and dozens of people who have fought the Israelis are wanted. I am not the only one.
Only God determines when people’s lives end. We know the price for going on this path. And we have no problem with that.
There was a [state of] awakening. The groups have continued to fight the Israelis for three or four years, but then it was over. All these groups were eliminated by assassinating and liquidating them.
A new state emerged and the factions called it the ‘Ikhwanjiyeh’ which means ‘Ikhwan’ [brothers]. One of the people who used to come to our house was my elder brother Hassan, or Abu Abdullah, and Ibrahim Maqadna, one of the founders of the [brigades]. I used to know most of them, like Abu Maher Tedras, Abdul al-Hafez al-Silawi and Abdul Hafez al-Sharif.
|The mother of killed soldier Ilan Sa’adon holds her son’s portrait [EPA]|
Since that time, I have had love and piety. Thank God all my family members were pious. My father created a special atmosphere of piousness in our home through some of his friends, one of them used to lecture us everyday on fiqh [Islamic doctrine], on jihad, on patience and other thoughts, he was the Mujahid Abu Idris Awda, one of those who was shot twice during the 1948 war, one in the shoulder and one in the kidney. He brutally fought with Hassan al-Banna.
We lived an Islamic atmosphere in our home.
I had an iron religious commitment at that time. I used to perform all prayers in the mosque, particularly the fajr [dawn] prayer, and I had good relations with all people. I had good relations with everyone, and I was familiar with weapons, I knew who sold them and who brought them from Egypt. We used to get our weapons from Egypt, not from the Israelis, to avoid getting in security trouble.
We stayed like that for a long time. One of those who was very close to me and had great influence on me was Sheikh Salah Shehada, before his first detention in 1981.
I remember that in 1981, I and one of my fellow brothers, who is still alive, brought a group of weapons that were not caught and supplied one of those who were held with the Sheikh, I brought the weapon and let him escape from detention.
The brothers were preparing for a military act. I was very close to Sheikh Salah. He used to come to me a lot; whenever he wanted a car, wanted maintenance for the car or anything else, I used to go to Jabalya refugee camp and pray the Friday noon prayers with him. He had recently come from Egypt at that time, stayed in Arish and then came to Beit Hanoun. He then built his own mosque and we used to pray with him.
He was detained in the 1980s along with a group of nine people. My relationship with him continued even after he was freed.
Detention and torture
I was then detained in 1986. I did not confess to anything. I stayed there for 46 days under interrogation. They used to transfer me, either to Askalan or to Gaza’s central jail. They tortured me for 33 days, then they gave a rest for two days, and then the interrogation continued, it lasted for 46 days.
Steve, a well-known investigator in Askalan jail, tried along with three of his aides to pressure and torture me so harsh that I used to faint. Once I was saying the shahada, I heard him saying in Hebrew “this man will die and I am not ready” and then ended the interrogation.
They then sent me back to Gaza’s central jail. Thank God as he gave me the strong will and patience. We did not confess and did not tell on anyone.
Of course, my relationship with Sheikh Salah was strengthened after I was released, he was even one of those who stood by my father’s side and assigned a lawyer to represent him. He was one of those who used to wait for me while I was held in prison.
We used to plan for every little and big step. Our work was well-planned, not random. We used to plan to kill first and then capture ones [soldiers] alive.
We only needed a piece of land, usually in a farm or a in a poultry farm, and we used to dig a secret jail under the ground, and hold some soldiers or officers there, just like the case of [captured Israeli soldier Gilad] Shalit.
Disguise, we were dressed like religious Jews, like the Rabbis. One of the places we used to observe was Hidaya roundabout. A car arrived, dropped passengers including Avi Sasportas who was kidnapped and killed on February 16, 1989.
I was the driver, and there were boxes in the car. He got on the car and sat in the back seat. There was a special signal between me and Abu Suhaib. After we passed Hidaya roundabout, I signed to Abu Suhaib who had a gun, he shot him twice in the face and once in the chest. I heard his sigh at the first shot and he died.
We then took him to the already-prepared place and buried him there.
We had stripped him of his clothes and belongings before we buried him. He had a wallet, ID card, and a military card, he even had a special weapon with night-view laser light. It was an M15 weapon.
The operation was discovered 11 days later.
We tried to announce responsibility for the operation, but no news agencies tried to report it.
Sheikh Salah knew about the operation when he was held in jail. Some of the brothers who visited him wrote on the walls and claimed responsibility for the operation, they wrote the ‘Palestinian Mujahidin movement’ at that time, and other phrases that indicated it was our group.
The Israelis then reported a number of names, they were trying to know who stood behind the operation, but it was all lies. We used to laugh at them.
I think Sheikh Salah knew about it. Sheikh Salah Shehada used to motivate the rest of the cells and groups which were in Bureij and Zeitoun, but they were caught after the second operation and the Sheikh was then detained.
|Mourners carry the coffin of al-Mabhouh [EPA]|
Muhammad Shawatha was the link between the groups held in jails and those outside. He was … sentenced to life imprisonment.
A date was set, May 3, 1989, there were two police cars, they [soldiers] were in a restaurant near a station in al-Quds, it was after 4pm in the afternoon. A military bus stopped there and dropped two, it was clear that these two were off on their weekend, they asked us how they could reach Majdal roundabout, I told them we had a place for only one to ensure the success of the operation.
As we were going on the highway to Majdal, Abu Suhaib turned back and shot him, took his weapon, we had sharp knives and I had a gun, I wanted to shoot him but Abu Suhaib was faster than me.
His blood was all over the car. We reached the already-set place, put him there and left.
We entered the Gaza Strip, to Jabalya, left the car in Jabal al-Kashef neighbourhood.
Shawatha’s mission was to close the place and clean the car. The Israelis felt that a car entered the place and started to shoot from all directions. I went west, crawled and then ran from Salah al-Din road to the camp. I had the weapons. The Israelis knew from newspapers that something had happened, but did not know what it was. It was a Wednesday.
On Saturday, his comrade, who was with him, asked his parents about him, said he saw him getting in a 1988 white Subaru when he left him. They informed the police and started to look for him. They then knew he must have met the same fate like the first one, and knew he must have been in Gaza. Shawatha was then detained.
We left our homes from the first moment the car was caught. I have not spent a night at my home since that time, because the car was caught and it bore our fingerprints.
Shawatha confessed after very harsh torture. The groups we used to contact were all caught, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin was detained then, and they knew that Abu Suhaib and al-Mabhouh were behind the seizure of the soldier.
Pursuing us started at that time. The Israelis did not try to storm our homes, they were trying to monitor them from a distance but we felt that we were pursued.
We stayed in Gaza Strip for only two months, and then were told to leave to Egypt.
It was worth it. Those who were held and tortured in jails know about it more than those who were not. I was detained several times, I know what it means. These people must be forced out by any means even if we would be martyred. However, it needs cautiousness, and thank God I have a very strong sense of cautiousness.
The Israelis have tried to assassinate me three times. On the day Izz was martyred, I was going down to the car, they escaped, they were sticking a bomb to the car.
And they tried [to assassinate me] in Lebanon in 1991.
And one month after Imad [Moghniyeh] was martyred, on March 14, I saw a person watching me. He ran away when he noticed that I had seen him.
I am very cautious, thank God. Eventually, only God determines when our lives end. We know the price to going on this path.
God will Insha’Allah [God willing] make us stronger, and I hope to become a martyr.
To the Israelis, my hands are stained with their blood, but to God? This is what matters.
The Israelis are the killers and the criminals. They took our land, killed our children, the massacres that happened in Gaza.
Insha’Allah the resistance will be stronger and will harshly retaliate.”