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Victim of Mob Justice Is Laid to Rest

Conflict: As vigilantism spikes, relatives deny that a West Bank man was an informant for Israel.

April 25, 2002|T. CHRISTIAN MILLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

JIFNA, West Bank — They buried Ibrahim Abdou in a small concrete tomb in a field of red poppies and pine trees. Blood smeared his face, and olive branches lined his coffin.

He was single, one of seven brothers who grew up in this ancient Christian community a few miles north of Ramallah.

He was a man whom rumor held to be a collaborator, a Palestinian who helped the Israeli army during its recent invasion of the West Bank. And for that, he died a brutal death.

"I hope my brother will at least be buried in peace to make up for the pain he suffered when he died," older brother Yacoub said Wednesday.

Abdou, 24, was killed by an angry mob of Palestinians on Monday in Ramallah. The death came just a few days after the Israeli army pulled back from most of the West Bank city, which was devastated by three weeks of fighting, its police force destroyed and its justice system now nonexistent.

The killing of suspected informants has long been a divisive issue in the Palestinian territories. The Israeli security apparatus is famous for its network of spies, bought with money or promises of work permits. Sometimes it resorts to blackmail, promising to vacate a prison term or stop the arrest of a loved one.

But as Palestinians begin rebuilding after the Israeli invasion, there are growing fears about a surge of vigilante justice. Since the Israeli army pulled back last week, five Palestinians have been killed by mobs.

The most recent attack occurred Tuesday, when three men were dragged from their beds in the West Bank city of Hebron and shot to death. One of the bodies was strung up on a utility pole as children watched.

There is precedent for such incidents: The estimated 2,000 Palestinians killed between 1987 and 1993 during the first uprising against Israeli rule included about 900 who were slain by fellow Palestinians. And mob justice increased again after the current intifada began in September 2000.

But many Palestinians fear that the bloodletting might become much worse now. It will take weeks, if not months, to begin rebuilding the Palestinian Authority's shattered police force.

"Now everyone who has something against someone else will be able to accuse them and kill them," Alexandra Odeh, 60, said at Abdou's funeral. "This is chaos."

The events leading to Abdou's killing began Monday morning, when he decided to look for work in Ramallah after the Israeli military had pulled back. His father, 55-year-old Yusef, begged him not to go.

"It's still uncertain what is going on," he told his son. "You must be careful."

About 1:30 that afternoon, Abdou and two other men were riding in a taxi in a trash-filled square in downtown Ramallah. Suddenly, a band of men wearing masks pulled them from the vehicle.

As taxis blared their horns and onlookers cheered, the masked men pumped round after round of bullets into the legs of the three men. They writhed on the ground and pleaded for mercy. One man reportedly recited verses from the Koran traditionally used for those at the point of death.

Ambulance crews managed to rescue two of the men, who remained in the central hospital Wednesday. But Abdou was dragged for several blocks along the street, bleeding to death.

The masked men, who fled in a car, shouted that they were from the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, an offshoot of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement that has been responsible for many suicide bombings and other attacks against Israelis in recent months.

It is unclear what tagged Abdou as an informant. Witnesses said the masked men accused him of helping in the capture of Marwan Barghouti, a Fatah leader seized by the Israelis last week.

Abdou's family denied that but acknowledged that he once worked for a branch of the Palestinian intelligence service. He tried to quit but was once arrested by the Palestinians and held for what one of his brothers termed "misbehavior."

The family's version is that the other two men attacked on Tuesday had been jailed by the Palestinians, accused of having worked as collaborators, when the Israelis invaded last month and freed them. Abdou might have known the men from his time in the intelligence service.

Family members made no mention of a taxi. They said that as the two men were being attacked, they saw Abdou and called out his name, leading the mob to turn on Abdou as well.

On the wall of the family's squat stone home just off the main road through Jifna, a notice proclaimed that the men were victims of "personal differences" with the masked men. It was signed by a previously unheard-of group called the Islamic Army, Osama bin Laden Brigade.

Although the truth might never be known, the Abdou family's version is given credence by the fact that most vigilante executions are accompanied by a signed statement to the media from a group taking responsibility for the act, something that didn't occur in this case.

"My brother was clean," Yacoub Abdou said. "They had nothing against him."

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