In the realm of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, certain claims are often taken at face value. Chief among them is that Fatah, the movement that dominates the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Palestinian Authority (PA), is “secular” and “moderate.” Yet, this is overstated. For proof, one only need look at Fatah’s Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades (AAMB), a terror group that has been particularly active in carrying out attacks against Israel from Gaza.
Origins and Ideology
Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades emerged from the Tanzim faction during the Second Intifada (2000-05). A profile by the European Council on Foreign Relations noted that the Brigades formed from “a loose network of military groups associated with Fatah” many of them “activists from the Balata refugee camp.” In the years since, AAMB has become Fatah’s “main terrorist arm,” as historian Efraim Karsh has written (Arafat’s War: The Man and His Battle for Israeli Conquest, Grove University Press, 2003). The Brigades are often described as the “military wing” of Fatah (“The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades,” May 29, 2008, Ynet). AAMB has also been referred to as the Palestinian National Liberation Movement, Al Aqsa Brigades and Al Mujahedun Al Aqsa.
The group takes its name from al-Aqsa Mosque. As CAMERA has documented, the mosque, located in Jerusalem atop what Jews refer to as the Temple Mount and Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, is often used as a focal point for inciting anti-Jewish violence (“Backgrounder: The Battle over Jerusalem and the Temple Mount,” July 24, 2017). Muslim tradition holds that the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven from the site of al-Aqsa Mosque, whose name is Arabic for “the farthest place.” Many anti-Israel organizations and individuals often claim that non-Muslims in general, and Jews in particular, want to destroy, defile or harm the mosque—to upset the status quo. Many Muslim Arab rulers, particularly Palestinians, have used these claims—termed the “al-Aqsa libel”—to incite violence and terrorism. As such, the group’s chosen name not only reflects a claim to be the “guardians of al-Aqsa,” but is clear proof of an Islamist bent which runs counter to the frequent portrayal of Fatah as “secular” or nationalistic in the Western sense of the term.
Fatah is not an Islamist organization, but the presence of AAMB in its ranks illustrates that Fatah is far more willing to employ Islamist motifs and ideology than is often recognized. The Council on Foreign Relations, Slate Magazine, and others have argued that the Brigades’ ideology is “rooted in Palestinian nationalism, not political Islam,” and that their objective is to drive Israel “out of the West Bank and Gaza Strip by force.” But, as is detailed below, the Brigade came into existence during a period in which Israel had begun removing its military presence in much of the West Bank and when it was offering Palestinian statehood in exchange for peace. Further, the AAMB reappeared and remained active in the years after Israel unilaterally withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005.
Indeed, as terror analyst Samuel Katz has noted “the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade provide Arafat with a force of Islamic-fueled operatives who would carry out the most heinous of terrorist attacks without ever officially being linked to the Palestinian Authority president (The Ghost Warriors, Penguin Random House, 2016).”
In 2011, the Martyrs’ Brigade—along with Hamas and other Islamist groups—issued a statement lamenting the death of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. In a statement to Ma’an News, a semi-official Palestinian news service, AAMB said: “”The Islamic nation was shocked with the news that bin Laden had been killed by the non-believers.” The group added, “The fighters in Palestine and around the world who have lost their leaders did not stop their mission and will continue in the tutelage of their masters.”
“We tell the Israeli and the American occupiers that we have leaders who have changed history with their Jihad and their steadfastness. We are ready to sacrifice our lives to bring back peace (“Jihad to continue without Bin Laden,” May 3, 2011).”
AAMB factions, such as the Gaza-based Nidal al-Amouodi Division, have also used Islamist rhetoric that is little different from that employed by the Islamic State or Hamas. For example, in one Dec. 31, 2017 video translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), an al-Amouodi Division member exhorted that “one of our boys and one of our girls will raise the flag of Palestine over the walls of Jerusalem.”
AAMB operatives speaking to the press
Relationship with Fatah
AAMB’s establishment ran concurrent with efforts by Fatah to take an increasingly hardline stance in order to counter the growing popularity of Palestinian Islamist terrorist groups like Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and others that had rejected Fatah’s decision to engage in talks with Israel during the 1990s Oslo Peace Process.
As CAMERA has highlighted, Fatah chieftain Yasser Arafat negotiated in bad faith; in several recorded talks, he admitted that the negotiations were actually a deception and that his goal of destroying the Jewish nation of Israel was unchanged (see, for example, “The Oslo Diaries and Yasser Arafat’s Trunk,” Sept. 20, 2018, JNS). Nonetheless, Arafat faced constant criticism from other Palestinian groups for his willingness to negotiate with Israelis. Arafat’s response, in part, included the launching of the Second Intifada in 2000, as well as sanctioning the creation of the Martyrs Brigades.
Indeed, as Daniel Byman, a Georgetown University professor, pointed out in his 2011 book A High Price: The Triumphs and Failures of Israeli Counterterrorism, both the AAMB, as well as the Popular Resistance Committees in Gaza, were launched after Arafat created the National and Islamic Higher Committee for the Follow-up of the Intifada, and authorized local Tanzim factions to attack IDF forces during the early months of the Second Intifada (see, also “Backgrounder: Tanzim,” Sept. 5, 2017, CAMERA).
The AAMB is comprised of several factions, many with affiliations of varying degree and type to various Fatah figures. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, the AAMB “consists of localized, autonomous units that mostly act independently of each other, united under a common alliance to Fatah (Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, Nov. 1, 2005).” Many of these factions take their names from slain terrorists.
According to the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), AAMB members originally considered themselves “to be a continuity of ‘The Storm’ (al-‘Asifah) and ‘Fatah Hawks’ (Suqoor Fatah) armed Fatah groups which were absorbed into the PA’s security forces.”
It is commonplace for many pundits and policymakers to obfuscate on the Brigades’ ties to Fatah. In a July 1, 2003 profile of the terror group, the BBC claimed, “The brigade is neither officially recognized nor openly backed by Mr. [Yasser] Arafat and Fatah, though brigade members tend also to belong to Fatah, the Palestinian leader’s political faction.” Similarly, a 2005 backgrounder by the Council on Foreign Relations claimed that it is “debated” whether “Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade has a direct relationship with the leadership of Fatah.” Several Fatah leaders have helped with the obfuscation, including Yasser Arafat who characterized the AAMB as a “rogue militia” over which had no control.
However, there is incontrovertible proof that Fatah supports the Brigade—and that the support was particularly pronounced during the era of then-Fatah/PLO/PA head, Yasser Arafat.
In a 2002 raid on Arafat’s East Jerusalem headquarters, the Orient House, the IDF seized documents showing that AAMB members were actually on the PA payroll. For example, the documents showed that Arafat had given the group $20,000. A November 2003 BBC investigation revealed that Fatah was sending as much as $50,000 per month directly to AAMB.
Additionally, AAMB members have ackowledged their ties to Fatah. In March 2002, the Brigades’ leader in Tulkarm told USA Today: “The truth is, we are Fatah…. We are the armed wing of the organization. We receive our instructions from Fatah. Our commander is Yasser Arafat himself.” On another occasion, PA minister Abd al-Fattah al-Hamayel conceded that Fatah supported the Brigades financially. Arafat, for his part, referred to AAMB’s cadres as his “children (“Discover the Networks: Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades,” David Horowitz Freedom Center).”
At the height of the Second Intifada, Jibril Rajoub, a senior Fatah official who is now a possible successor to current Fatah head Mahmoud Abbas, referred to AAMB as “the noblest phenomenon in the history of Fatah, because they restored the movement’s honor and bolstered the political and security echelons of the Palestinian Authority.”
In a March 25, 2002 brief for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a Washington D.C.-based think tank, terror analyst Matthew Levitt noted: “The infrastructure, funds, leadership, and operatives that comprise the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and facilitate the group’s activity all hail from Fatah.”
Citing the more than 100,000 documents found at the Orient House, Levitt noted that IDF had found proof—on Arafat’s own stationary—that Fatah was funding AAMB and other terrorist groups. Levitt pointed out: “The documents include a July 9, 2002, letter signed by Arafat empowering Kamil Hmeid—a Fatah leader in Bethlehem—to disburse payments to twenty-four Fatah activists, including Atef Abayat, an al-Aqsa commander in Bethlehem.” Further, “most of the Brigades’ leadership are salaried members of the PA and its security forces, like Nasser Awais, a full-time employee of the Palestinian National Security Force and a senior al-Aqsa commander.”
Yael Shahar, a researcher for the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, also studied some of the documents seized at the Orient House. In a March 24, 2002 report, Shahar concluded that AAMB members “are on the Palestinian Authority’s payroll, its activities are financed out of Palestinian Authority coffers, and its attacks are carried out with the knowledge and backing of Yasser Arafat’s inner circle.” Indeed, many of the documents found were addressed to Brig. Gen. Fouad Shoubaki, who was then serving as the P.A.’s chief financial officer for military operations. The Brigades sent invoices to Shoubaki—including for propaganda posters to promote and recruit suicide bombers.
In sum: AAMB, along with Tanzim and Force 17, provided Arafat with plausible deniability. But—at least during the Arafat era—the group was a subsidiary of Fatah. In his biography of Arafat, the late terror analyst Barry Rubin said that “the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade was simply a new version of the Black September group of the 1970s.” Black September was a group that Arafat’s Fatah claimed was independent, but was really controlled by the movement.
Many of the documents obtained at the Orient House served as the basis for lawsuits by terror victims and their families against the PA (see this Jan. 15, 2015 report by the Investigative Project on Terrorism for more information).
More evidence of Fatah’s direct support for AAMB has emerged in the years since Arafat’s November 2004 death. Arafat’s successor, Mahmoud Abbas, has continued to pay salaries to imprisoned members of the terror group, as well as to those who are killed or wounded while carrying out terror attacks. As CAMERA highlighted in a Washington Examiner op-ed, Abbas has refused U.S. demands to desist (“The Palestinian Authority Has Chosen Terrorism Over U.S. Foreign Aid,” March 2, 2019).
The PA’s decision to continue paying terrorists violates the terms of the Oslo Accords, as well as the promises of top Palestinian leaders, many of who swore to end support for terrorism in exchange for foreign aid.
Initially, beginning in about September 2000 or so, the Brigades used small arms to carry out shooting attacks against IDF troops and residents of Jewish communities in the West Bank. However, the AAMB soon began to carry out suicide bombings, just as Hamas and other Islamist groups had done before it. According to the article “Ha’Mitabed Ha-250” by Yediot Aharonot’s correspondent Roni Shaked, Fatah’s Tanzim and AAMB accounted for 39 of the first 250 bombings during the Second Intifada. The escalation by the AAMB coincided with its joining forces with Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in carrying out attacks during that Intifada.
In January 2002, AAMB claimed responsibility for the “first suicide bombing carried out by a female (Jewish Virtual Library, Profile of Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades). By March 23, 2002, Fatah Tanzim and AAMB had “taken responsibility for more than 300 terror attacks in which Israeli civilians were killed (“The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades—A political tool with an edge,” International Institute for Counter-Terrorism).”
In March 2002 the U.S. State Department designated the AAMB as a terrorist organization (“U.S. lists Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades as terror group,” CNN, March 21, 2002). As the terror analyst Matthew Levitt has noted, the State Department even “broke with tradition and announced the group’s pending designation as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO), even before Congress completed the process leading to its official listing in the Federal Register”—a urgency prompted by concerns that the AAMB were undermining the peace mission of then-U.S. envoy Gen. Anthony Zinni (“Designating the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades,” March 25, 2002, Washington Institute for Near East Policy). Canada and the European Union (EU) similarly designated the group.
In 2004, AAMB signed on to a ceasefire with Israel, only to resume attacks when Hamas won the Palestinian election in 2006 (“Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade,” Nov. 1, 2005, Council on Foreign Relations).
Numerous AAMB operatives were killed or imprisoned during the Second Intifada. As a result, the group has since become more decentralized, with operations and activities being carried out in smaller, local cells. Initially, AAMB was comprised of older terrorists from Fatah and other much smaller groups (Profile: Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, Anti-Defamation League). However, as Ronen Bergman noted in his 2018 book on Israeli intelligence agencies, Rise and Kill First, by the end of the Intifada many of these veteran terrorists were eliminated or in jail.
On July 26, 2007 PA President Mahmoud Abbas announced the disarmament of “all the armed militias and irregular military or paramilitary groups” existing in the Palestinian Authority. Abbas had an uneasy relationship with the Brigades who in March 2005 disrupted a gathering in Ramallah of Fatah activists by bursting into the hall and dispersing the meeting “by firing their rifles into the air (The Last Palestinian: The Rise and Reign of Mahmoud Abbas, Amir Tibon and Grant Rumley, Prometheus Books, 2007).” As the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA) noted, the July 2007 disarmament announcement included the Brigades. JCPA added: “The disarmament of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades was carried out in the framework of the ‘Fugitives Agreement’ between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which took shape after Hamas’s armed takeover of the Gaza Strip in June and July 2007. In line with this agreement, Israel pardoned close to 200 Fatah fugitives in return for their signing a commitment to abandon the path of terror, depositing their weapons with the PA security mechanisms, and undergoing a trial period, first in PA prisons and afterward in Palestinian towns, during which they were forbidden to be involved in any way in weapons trade or terror.”
In exchange, the PA security forces would “absorb the pardoned men into their ranks.” According to ret. IDF Lt. Col. Jonathan Halevi: “Each of the PA intelligence organizations adopted some of the men and was responsible for certifying that they had turned over their weapons. Subsequently the men were incarcerated in PA prisons under relatively comfortable conditions. After the incarceration, which lasted three to six months, the men received a ‘partial amnesty’ that allowed them to move freely outside the prisons while still having to spend their nights in the headquarters of the security bodies. If they also fulfilled these terms, three months later the men received a ‘full amnesty’ that allowed them to move freely within the West Bank without monitoring by the security organizations.”
Although many AAMB members were absorbed into the PA security forces, “others kept their weapons and were targeted by the PA,” the European Council on Foreign Relations noted. Still “others went on to form splinter groups such as the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades-Nidal al-Amouodi Division and the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) in Gaza.”
In June 2007, Hamas defeated Fatah in a brief but bloody internecine war, seizing control of the Gaza Strip. Subsequently, AAMB members helped the PA carry out a three-month crackdown, arresting “fifteen hundred Hamas sympathizers” in the West Bank (A High Price).
For the next several years, the AAMB was largely dormant, although in January 2008 some Gaza-based factions did begin to actively cooperate with Hamas and PIJ in joint rocket attacks against Israeli border communities. In 2014, however, the organization re-emerged. During Operation Protective Edge, which began on July 8, 2014 with IDF forces responding to incessant rocket fire from Hamas-controlled Gaza, the Brigades issued a public statement exhorting an “open war against the Zionist enemy in all [possible] ways with [operational] surprises, in accordance with all the laws and international conventions that bestow on us [the Palestinian people] the right to armed struggle so as to remove this occupation from all the Palestinian land.” JCPA also noted that the Brigades called for “a war of attrition… that will include many surprises, and that will create a balance of terror and lead to a campaign in the Zionist interior [a term for the territory of the sovereign state of Israel].”
On Aug. 16, 2014, the AAMB published a list of terrorist attacks that it had perpetrated in July and August of that year. More than 30 attacks were listed—all of them in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) and Jerusalem. Most of the attacks consisted of shooting at IDF troops and bases, as well as Jewish communities located in the West Bank. Although in 2014 Lt. Col. Halevi wrote “it is not known whether Abbas has given his consent to the reestablishment of the Fatah military wing and to its official return to terror activity,” it seems highly unlikely that such a development would occur without the approval of the increasingly autocratic Abbas.
The Brigades also managed to seize IDF gear and equipment during the 2014 fighting, including shoulder-fired rocket launchers (“Al-Aksa Martyrs’ Brigades Posts Videos Showing IDF Equipment Seized in Gaza,” The Jerusalem Post, Aug. 5, 2014).
The AAMB was an active participant in the so-called Stabbing Intifada (2015-16), in which Palestinians used knives, guns, vehicles and cylinder blocks, among other weapons, to attack and murder Israelis. Although numerous commentators in The Washington Post and elsewhere sought to portray the Intifada as unconnected to Fatah, the movement in fact supported the violence, both rhetorically and financially. As the Investigative Project on Terrorism documented, in October 2015 the AAMB claimed credit for “opening fire on Eitam and Na’ama Henkin’s car – an Israeli couple in their 30s – while they were driving home with four of their children. The children – ranging in age from four months to nine years old – witnessed the murder of their parents but were not injured.” Fatah Central Committee member Mahmoud Al-Aloul praised the murders, calling it an “operation.” Fatah head Mahmoud Abbas, meanwhile, failed to condemn them (“Netanyahu demands Palestinian condemnation for couple’s murder, Oct. 2, 2015).
AAMB operatives participated in the so-called “Return March (2018-19), in which Palestinians, many armed and under Hamas auspices, sought to infiltrate Israel with the expressed purpose of murdering Israelis. AAMB terrorists launched attacks against the Jewish state from the Israel-Gaza border, and several, including commanders, have been killed in the fighting (“Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades commander killed in explosion in Gaza,” Ynet News, July 15, 2018).
Tensions with current Fatah leadership
Although Fatah, which dominates the PA, created AAMB and continues to provide some members with funds, tensions between some AAMB cells and the Authority exist and have become prominent in the Abbas era. In April 2016, for example, PA security forces (PASF) arrested Ahmad Izzat Halawa, an AAMB leader in Nablus, over his alleged involvement in the killing of two PA officers. The subsequent death of Halawa, who was reportedly beaten to death while in detention, prompted local protests. Earlier in the month, PASF had fought with AAMB members in the city. According to analysts Grant Rumley and Amir Tibon, “Nablus has become the epicenter of the movement against Mahmoud Abbas (The Last Palestinian).”
The AAMB is fairly active in disseminating propaganda to the media and others. For example, on Dec. 8, 2017, The Guardian, a U.K.-based newspaper, noted “masked Palestinian militants from Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade” gave “a press conference to condemn the decision by U.S. President Trump to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.”
The AAMB’s leadership was more clearly delineated in the early years of its existence. Its current head is Hassan al-Qassas, who Hamas attempted to assassinate in January 2007 (“Gaza Infighting: 5 killed, 10 kidnapped,” Ynet, Jan. 3, 2007). The group’s early leaders were often members of Fatah’s Tanzim faction, and included:
- Marwan Barghouti (currently serving five consecutive life terms in Israel for terrorist activity: for more on Barghouti’s background see CAMERA’s Sept. 5, 2017 backgrounder on Tanzim)
- Naif Abu-Sharah: local commander in Nablus (killed by IDF forces in June 2004).
- Fadi Kafisha: former head of the Tanzim in Nablus. Kafisha worked closely with Hezbollah in “preparing numerous explosive belts” and orchestrating terror attacks. IDF forces killed him on Aug. 31, 2006. As Palestinian Media Watch has documented, Kafisha continues to be celebrated by Fatah, including on the movement’s Facebook page, which calls him a “martyr (“Fatah Facebook glorifies ‘outstanding’ commander of Fatah military wing,” Aug. 31, 2018)
- Zakaria Zubeidi: a local commander in Jenin and a former Palestinian policeman. In 2007, Zubeidi was offered amnesty if he would forego terrorist activities. The amnesty was revoked in 2011. In Feb. 2019, he was arrested for “serious and current terrorist activities” (“Israel arrests infamous Zakaria Zubeidi for serious terrorist activities,” JNS, Feb. 27, 2019). Zubeidi has previously served as the PA’s Minister for Prisoner Affairs. Zubeidi is also the co-founder of The Freedom Theatre, an NGO that is registered is Sweden and whose honorary and executive board members include pro-BDS academics like Judith Butler and Noam Chomsky, among others.
- Zaki al–Sakani: an AAMB commander who resides in Cairo. Hamas has recently accused al-Sakani of attempts to destabilize Gaza by dragging it and Israel into conflict. Previously, Al-Sakani spent years in a Hamas prison for planting IEDs and killing al-Qassam operatives during the 2007 fighting between Fatah and Hamas in Gaza. Hamas exiled him to Egypt after his release (“The rift between Hamas and Fatah grows,” GroundBrief ACCESS, Joe Truzman, April 25, 2019).
Relations with other terror groups/funding
The AAMB has cooperated with other terrorist groups throughout its existence, including Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). As a representative of Fatah, the group has had rocky relations with competitors like Hamas—alternatively cooperating with and acting against the Gaza-based terror group.
Given Hamas’s iron grip on Gaza, however, it seems likely that many AAMB groups based in the Strip operate with Hamas’s permission. Indeed, some AAMB factions in Gaza, such as the Nidal al-‘Amoudi faction, do not accept the current leadership of Fatah, and instead support Muhammad Dahlan, a rival to Abbas. On Dec. 2, 2017, this AAMB clique announced that it had established “The Martyr Yasser Arafat Base, the first Fatah movement military base in the Gaza Strip “Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades Establish ‘Yasser Arafat’ Military Base in Gaza,” Middle East Media Research Institute, Feb. 8, 2018).” The same faction also acknowledged training and cooperating in terror attacks with Hamas’s Izz Al-Din Al-Qassam Brigades.
According to the Investigative Project on Terrorism, a Washington D.C.-based think tank, Iran and its chief proxy, the Lebanese-based Hezbollah, “probably provide some support to Al-Aqsa elements, but the extent of external influence on al-Aqsa as a whole is not clear.” In April 2007, a leader of an AAMB cell in northern Gaza named Abu Ahmed admitted that the Brigades had “warm relations” with Hezbollah, which provided the group with “training and information.” Notably, the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), a Gaza-based terror group that includes many former AAMB members and has close operational ties to the Brigades, receive considerable support from Iran.
During the early years of its existence, the Brigades “had sides jobs in selling arms and other smuggling monopolies over businesses,” according to Mahmoud Muslih, a Hamas official who said that it created “security chaos (The Last Palestinian).”
AAMB is frequently misrepresented in the media. As noted above, the Brigade was often depicted as being a part of Fatah that was beyond Yasser Arafat’s control—despite evidence to the contrary. Marwan Barghouti, a Fatah Tanzim figure and former head of the Brigade, has published op-eds in The New York Times and other major U.S. news—all from his prison cell, where he is serving several life sentences for murder. On April 17, 2017—the Jewish holiday of Passover—The Times published a piece by Barghouti that identified him as merely a “Palestinian leader and parliamentarian.” No mention was made of his terrorist background or his convictions. New York Times editor Matt Seaton (now at The New York Review of Books) initially refused to append an editors note with more information about Barghouti. However, following contact from CAMERA and others, Seaton’s editors overruled him and added a note stating that Barghouti had been found guilty of “five counts of murder and membership in a terrorist organization (“New York Times adds background on op-ed contributor Marwan Barghouti,” CAMERA, April 18, 2018).”
For The Washington Post’s part, reporter Ruth Eglash has called Barghouti “a man Palestinians compare to Nelson Mandela,” and just a “senior member of West Bank’s ruling Fatah party” who is “in many ways [Mahmoud] Abbas’s natural successor.” The Post also ran an op-ed by Daoud Kuttab, a Palestinian journalist, which omitted Barghouti’s crimes and called him a “prominent leader of the PLO’s Fatah movement (see “Washington Post Commentator Whitewashes Palestinian Terrorism,” Algemeiner, April 28, 2017).” Among other actions, Kuttab, who has been widely published in Western news outlets, took to twitter on April 23, 2019 to defend deceased Fatah arch terrorist Abu Jihad, for “his role in supporting non-violent intifada, empowering unions and supporting education.”
Structure and location
It unknown how many operatives AAMB has; the group’s decentralized structure and the imprisonment and death of many of its original members make an accurate count difficult, if not impossible, to ascertain. As Ynet News noted in its May 29, 2008 profile “the group’s decentralized structure works to its advantage, making operatives and leaders harder to track by the intelligence community.” According to a 2004 estimate by analyst Arlene Kusher, AAMB probably had “no more than a few hundred men, who act in cells…in secrecy (“Disclosed: Inside the Palestinian Authority and the PLO,” Pavilion Press).” However, that number has certainly fluctuated considerably in the subsequent decade and a half.
In its early years, the AAMB “was well represented in the cities of Ramallah and Bethlehem in the Jerusalem areas, and Nablus and Jenin in upper Samaria (The Ghost Warriors, Samuel Katz, Penguin Random House, 2016).” Indeed, several of the AAMB suicide bombers during the Second Intifada hailed from Nablus. During the same timeframe, Jamal Hwaid, a top AAMB operative, declared, “Jenin camp is one of the greatest source of martyrs for Palestine. It’s the capital of martyrs (A High Price).” However, in the Abbas era AAMB is more active in the Gaza Strip. The group also has some members in refugee camps in Lebanon.
AAMB’s emblem is al-Aqsa mosque with two Palestinian flags underneath it. Two M16 assault rifles sit atop the mosque. A green grenade sits in between with rifles. An inscription, taken from the Quran, says: “Fight, Allah will punish them by your hand, he will smother them in humiliation, and help you rise above them, and heal the bosom of believers.” As the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) noted in its profile of AAMB, “the Koranic writing and the very name of the group implies a sense of religious duty and justification for their willingness to commit violent acts.” Terror group operatives often wear headbands, in yellow, green, black or yellow, with the emblem (“Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades,” Jihad Intel, Middle East Forum).