Tuesday, July 19, 2005

"Are You Ready? Tomorrow You Will Be In Paradise"
Inside The Mind Of A Suicide Bomber

An interview with a terrorist, from the Times of London:

What motivates a suicide bomber? Our correspondent talks to a young Muslim who survived his intended 'martyrdom' and describes the terrorists' rigorous training

AT DAWN, when the three men heard the morning call to prayer from a mosque in the village below their hideout in the hills, they knelt and uttered the traditional invocation to Allah that Muslim warriors make before setting off for combat. They put on clean clothes, tucked the Koran into their pockets, and began the long hike over the hills and along dry riverbeds to the outskirts of Jerusalem.

In the Palestinian neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem, they walked in silence so that their accents, the guttural vernacular of Gaza, would not arouse suspicion. It was June 1993, and they were members of the Palestinian fundamentalist group Hamas. Along the way, they stopped to pray at every mosque. At dusk, they boarded a bus that was heading toward West Jerusalem, filled with Israeli passengers. When the driver thwarted their attempt to hijack the vehicle, they tried to detonate the homemade bombs they were carrying.

The bombs failed to go off, so they pulled out guns and began firing wildly. The shots injured five passengers, including a woman who later died. The young men fled the bus, hijacked a car at a red light, and forced the driver to take them toward Bethlehem. Israeli security forces stopped them at a military checkpoint, and in a gun battle two of the young men and their hostage were killed. The third hijacker, whom I will call S, was struck by a bullet in the head; he lay comatose for two months in Israeli hospitals. Finally, he was pronounced brain-dead, and the Israelis sent him back to his family in the Gaza Strip to die.

But S recovered, and when we met, five years later, he told me his version of the events. By then, he was married and the father of three sons. Each of them had been named for shaheed batal — “martyr heroes”.

In Gaza, S is celebrated as a young man who “gave his life to Allah” and whom Allah “brought back to life”.

He was polite as he welcomed me into his home. The house was surrounded by a high cement wall that had been fortified with steel. We sat down in a large, simply furnished room whose walls were inscribed with verses from the Koran. On one wall was a poster showing green birds flying in a purple sky, a symbol of the Palestinian suicide bombers.

S had just turned 27. He is slight, and he walked with a limp, the only trace of his near-death. He invited his wife to join us, and he answered my questions without hesitation.

I asked him when, and why, he had decided to volunteer for martyrdom. “In the spring of 1993, I began to pester our military leaders to let me do an operation,” he said. “It was around the time of the Oslo accords, and it was quiet, too quiet. I wanted to do an operation that would incite others to do the same. Finally, I was given the green light to leave Gaza for an operation inside Israel.”

“How did you feel when you heard that you’d been selected for martyrdom?” I asked.

“It’s as if a very high, impenetrable wall separated you from Paradise or Hell,” he said. “Allah has promised one or the other to his creatures. So, by pressing the detonator, you can immediately open the door to Paradise — it is the shortest path to Heaven.”

S was one of 11 children in a middle-class family that, in 1948, had been forced to flee from Majdal to a refugee camp in Gaza, during the Arab-Israeli war that started with the creation of the State of Israel. He joined Hamas in his early teens and became a street activist.

In 1989, he served two terms in Israeli prisons for intifada activity, including attacks on Israeli soldiers. One of his brothers is serving a life sentence in Israel.

I asked S to describe his preparations for the suicide mission. “We were in a constant state of worship,” he said. “We told each other that if the Israelis only knew how joyful we were they would whip us to death! Those were the happiest days of my life.”

“What is the attraction of martyrdom?” I asked.

“The power of the spirit pulls us upward, while the power of material things pulls us downward,” he said. “Someone bent on martyrdom becomes immune to the material pull. Our planner asked, ‘What if the operation fails?’ We told him, ‘In any case, we get to meet the Prophet and his companions, inshallah.’

“We were floating, swimming, in the feeling that we were about to enter eternity. We had no doubts. We made an oath on the Koran, in the presence of Allah — a pledge not to waver. This jihad pledge is called bayt al-ridwan, after the garden in Paradise that is reserved for the prophets and the martyrs. I know that there are other ways to do jihad. But this one is sweet — the sweetest. All martyrdom operations, if done for Allah ’s sake, hurt less than a gnat’s bite!”

S showed me a video that documented the final planning for the operation. In the grainy footage, I saw him and two other young men engaging in a ritualistic dialogue of questions and answers about the glory of martyrdom. S, who was holding a gun, identified himself as a member of al-Qassam, the military wing of Hamas, which is one of two Palestinian Islamist organisations that sponsor suicide bombings. (Islamic Jihad is the other group.) “Tomorrow, we will be martyrs,” he declared, looking straight at the camera. “Only the believers know what this means. I love martyrdom.”

The young men and the planner then knelt and placed their right hands on the Koran. The planner said: “Are you ready? Tomorrow, you will be in Paradise.”

Note that S wanted to carry out his suicide operation during the time of the Oslo Accords, which had led to the Palstinians having control of their territory for the first time. In other words, when things were getting better, and people were living in peace, that was the time he wanted to blow up a bunch of Israelis, because "It was quiet. Too quiet."