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Commentary and Analysis

Terror's Aftermath

A convicted Hamas terrorist talks about his mission to destroy Israel. The mother of a bombing victim talks about her daughter and her pain.

July 07, 2002|JERROLD M. POST and EHUD SPRINZAK | Jerrold M. Post is director of the political psychology program at George Washington University. He is co-author of "Political Paranoia: The Psychopolitics of Hatred." Ehud Sprinzak is dean of the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliah, Israel.

JERUSALEM — Perhaps the most notorious figure in the suicide bombings that have plagued Israel in recent years, Hassan Salameh orchestrated the wave of attacks that terrorized Israel during the run-up to Israel's 1996 elections. It was the bombings he coordinated, many believe, that resulted in Labor Prime Minister Shimon Peres losing the close election to Likud Party candidate Benjamin Netanyahu, who promised "peace with security." Salameh was ultimately arrested and convicted of being responsible for 46 deaths, for which he is now serving 46 consecutive life sentences in an Israeli prison. The following interview was conducted in prison as part of a project supported by the Smith Richardson Foundation in which 35 incarcerated religious extremists and secular terrorists were extensively interviewed to explore their life histories, motivations and how, in the case of the religious extremists, they came to rationalize "killing in the name of God."

Salameh was born in 1971. He was raised in a relatively well-off family in the Khan Yunis refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. In high school, he took part in the first intifada and joined Hamas. As he succeeded in the organization, he was promoted to organize and coordinate suicide bombings. The passion of his convictions served as a siren song to alienated Palestinian youth in the refugee camps, where he successfully persuaded them to carry out their violent acts. What follows is a transcript of his interview, which has been edited for length:

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We were a normal, well-established and respected refugee camp family. All the children went to school and were considered well-behaved. No one in the family was involved in criminal activities; most used to pray in the mosque. Within the family we never discussed politics, and our social standing was good.

As a boy, I used to listen a lot to the radio and developed a keen political awareness. Like some of my brothers, I used to pray in the mosque and attend religious lessons. My leaning toward Islam was clear and coherent.

At the start of the intifada I joined Hamas. I was recruited by a friend from the camp. My joining-up was the normal thing to do, as all the young people were enlisting. I joined in Hamas activities in the camp, mainly demonstrations, rallies, stone-throwing and other public disturbances.

In 1992, I was recruited to the Hamas shock troops in the camp by a friend in the movement. Our task was to defend the organization against infiltration by undesirable elements and to wage war on corruption, negative social trends like theft, prostitution and drugs and, of course, on traitors.

As members of a cell, we attacked suspected collaborators with Israel, some of whom were put to death. In order to get the truth out of suspected collaborators when we interrogated them, we used to break their legs and arms with iron bars and chains and to stab them with knives. It was not cruelty for its own sake, but the way an underground organization has to operate in occupied territory.

At the start of 1993, after the other members of my cell had been detained and interrogated by the Israeli security forces, I was forced to flee. With the aid of a forged Egyptian passport, I fled to Jordan across the Allenby Bridge. From Jordan I went to Sudan, where I worked in the Hamas offices in Khartoum for eight months.

Toward the end of 1993, we began to put pressure on the Hamas leaders in Sudan to allow us to undergo advanced military training. We wanted to acquire a high level of skill so that when we returned to Palestine we would have enhanced operational capabilities. The organization arranged a training camp for us and flew us to Syria and then to Iran.

[In the camp, Salameh learned to handle various weapons, to prepare and place bombs, to gather intelligence and to lay ambushes. He was helped to obtain another forged passport and given money to get back to the Palestinian territories.]

Soon after we crossed into Gaza, we were captured by people from the Palestinian Authority and jailed for 7 1/2 months. On my release, I met senior activists from [Hamas'] military wing, Izz a-Din al-Qassam, including the commander in Gaza. I became [his] right-hand man and helped him assemble charges and grenades from TNT, based on what I learned in my training in Iran.

[At the beginning of 1996, after the Israelis killed a Hamas leader, Salameh was put in charge of a plan to avenge the death. An East Jerusalem cell was activated.]

Another cell, which specialized in stealing cars, got hold of an Israeli vehicle and brought it to the orange groves near Ashdod. I was [given money], names of accomplices in the Jerusalem area, telephone numbers and code words for communication and photographs of the people involved so that it would be easier for me to recognize them.

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