Arafat's bodyguards recruited for suicide attackes

Special to World
Thursday, February 5, 2004

JERUSALEM Bodyguards of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat have been recruited for suicide operations against Israel.

Israel military sources said special operations forces have arrested at least one member of Arafat's Force 17 praetorian guard. Force 17 is responsible for Arafat's security and has branches throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Arafat's ruling Fatah movement has been cited for being the leading force in suicide operations against Israel. But the Israeli arrests marked one of the first times that Arafat's bodyguards have been involved in such attacks.

Israeli security agents captured Muhammad Abu Lil, 18, on Dec. 13 along with another Fatah agent from the West Bank city of Nablus, both of whom were on their way to bomb a restaurant in the Israeli city of Petah Tikva. The statement said Abu Lil's accomplice, Ahmed Abu Hawila, had been recently recruited to Force 17.

A Fatah commander was said to have recruited suicide attackers from Force 17. The sources identified Nader Abu Lil, a 25-year Fatah commander, for responsibility for the recruitment of Force 17 and other Palestinian security officers, as well as planning operations.

The information of Fatah's recruitment from Arafat's guard came in wake of the arrest of suspected suicide squads in December. The suicide squads were said to have been recruited and organized in Nablus.

Nader Abu Lil was also accused of having planned to launch a suicide attack in January 2004. The military statement said an Israeli raid on Jan. 2 in Nablus's old city quarter yielded two large bombs meant for use in Israel. A suspected suicide squad composed of Palestinians from Nablus-area refugee camps was captured.

Military sources said the use of Arafat's bodyguards for attacks has been encouraged by Iran and Hizbullah, which finance up to 90 percent of Fatah insurgency operations. They said that in many cases Fatah has teamed with the Iranian-sponsored Islamic Jihad or Hamas to launch operations in Israel.

On Wednesday, Israel's military reported that troops captured a Fatah commander in the northern town of Tubas in the West Bank. The commander was identified as Jihad Sawafta, who survived a previous assassination attempt by Israeli forces.

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