Defense Update - News Analysis by David Eshel

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Popular Resistance Committee Behind US Convoy Blast in Gaza

Following thorough research among leading officials and counter terrorist experts, DU sources have learned that the suspected organisation which perpetrated the high-profile bombing on the American convoy in Gaza, October 15, killing three Amercans, is the so-called Popular Resistance Committee-and specifically its military wing, the "Salah-a Din brigades".

There have been conflicting reports over the identity of the responsible groups, due to the highly sensitive issue for the Palestinian National Authority and the fact, that in contrast to similar attacks, no organisation issued an official declaration.

Unofficial reports spread by Yassir Arafat's entourage in Ramallah, at first blamed
splinter factions related to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and reports over an exchange of fire between Palestine Preventive Service (PSS) and suspects in Jabaliya refugee camp hinted that even disgruntled Hamas dissidents could be involved. Finally, 'Time' magazine revealed information by unnamed Palestinian officials, last Wednesday, indicating a little known terrorist group named the Iraqi sponsored Jabhat al-Tahrir al-Arabiyya the Arab Liberation Front (ALP) behind the bombing.

As the Gaza bombing is an unprecedented first, in which American officials were targeted and killed by Palestinian terrorist groups since the start of the Al Aqsa Intifada, three years ago, DU sources have tried to investigate the matter in effort to establish the identity of the responsible group.

First of all, it should be noticed that a previous attempt on the same convoy, on the same route into Gaza City, was made in on July 28, when a remote-controlled bomb exploded prematurely near a US bullet proof van, fortunately causing no casualties. The PNA reluctantly blamed the PFLP for the attack, but made no arrests then. Strangely, this serious incident remained obscure and unpublicised by all concerned.

The Arab Liberation Front
Established as a guerilla group in 1969 by the Iraqi Ba'thist party in alliance with Fatah, its founder was Zayid Haydar. Its activities in the occupied Palestinian territories were conducted in a Ramallah office building shared with the Jabhat al-Tahrir al-Filistiniyyah, the Palestinian Liberation Front (PLF), a Lebanese centered splinter group from the Popular Front for Liberation of Palestine - General Command led by Ahmad Jibril. (This new organization was headed by Muhammad Zaidan (Abu Abbas) which became world famous in October 1985 when his four member squad took over the Italian cruise ship Aquille Lauro at sea.) The present leader of the ALP is Raked Salem, whose main activity was, until the downfall of Saddam Hussein, doling out his donated US$ 25,000 checks to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers, thus gaining considerable influence among the Palestinian terrorist groups. Extremely militant in its rethoric against the United States since early 2003, ALF activists were openly brandishing anti-American pamphlets and banners in public rallies during the war . Though some of their operatives had undergone training in Iraq, in general, the ALF was only marginally involved in active terrorist attacks during the Intifada.
Israeli intelligence sources shrug off reports involving the ALF in the attack, by emphasising, that this organisation had neither the professional capability, nor infrastructure to carry out a quality operation of this size and magnitude.

The Popular Resistance Committees
The Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), suspected being the prime perpetrators of the deadly attack on the Americans in Gaza, constitute, according to Israeli intelligence sources, one of the largest terrorist organisations in the Gaza strip. Although regarded as dissidents in the ranks of Fatah and opposed to any reconcilliation steps with Israel, by the PNA, the PRC leadership under Yasser Sai'd Mohassin Zanun ('Abu Balal'), the operations chief and Mohammed Kamal al-Baba the ideologue, is fiercely commited to fight Israelis, but mainly in the Gaza strip. Zanun, 37, was born in Al-Shavura refugee camp to a well known Gaza family. Having created the so-called Al-Fahed Al-Aswad ('Black Panther') cell, he and his men 'executed' suspected collaborators, during the First Intifada and came high on the 'Wanted List' of the GSS. With the establishment of the PNA in 1994, Zanun joined Mohammed Dahlan's legal Preventive Security Service (PSS) and rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel. During the early stages of the present Intifada, Zanun and a number of his collegues in the PSS, Samir Abu Zayid and Ibrahim Mavchuch founded the Palestinian 'Popular Resistance Committee', but maintained close relationship with PSS officials, who shared his radical anti-Israeli views.

Under his leadership the PRC created its military wing ' Salah a- Din Brigades', which carried out some of the most impressive high-profile attacks, including three separate bombings, which destroyed three IDF tanks in 2002. Among these, were two of its most prestigious Merkava Mk3, a 'first', as none of these were destroyed even in Lebanon by the professional Iranian-trained, Hezbollah saboteurs.
In these attacks, PRC used ultra-heavy explosives, with considerable skill, signifying a high professional standard, hitherto unknown in the Palestinian organisations. There is no firm information as to where and by whom PRC bomb experts obtained their professional skill, but Israeli CT investigators claim, that Hezbollah has been active in training Palestinian terrorists with Iranian Revolutionary Guard instructors in the Lebanese Beka'a Valley. One of their most prominent students, was Lt Colonel Massoud Ayyad, a senior commander in Arafat's presidential guards (Force-17), who specialised in explosives, mortars and even tried to form a clandestine Hezbollah cell in Gaza, when he was gunned down by the IDF in February 2001. A year later another attempt was foiled, when the Israeli navy intercepted the Abu Hassan, a small 50-foot fishing boat en route to Gaza and seized Mohammad Salem 'Abu Amar', a Hezbollah bomb expert on bord.

According to demolition experts, the explosive device used in the US diplomatic convoy bombing, was no ordinary one. Retired colonel David Hunt a Fox TV commentator, pointed out, that the Chevrolet 'Suburban' van was outfitted with a 'level 5' armour suite to withstand explosives like incoming RPG and 'normal' landmines. The tremendous blast which wrecked the vehicle must have therefore been the result from much larger loads. For example the IDF Merkava was blown up by a special mix of explosives, amounting to at least 100kg, which was triggered off by remote control to blow up precisely under the lesser protected hull of the tank. Experts do not rule out that the perpetrators used quite sophisticated means, including a 'two-staged' attack mode, in which two charges were used, to enhance the blast effect, after their first attempt in July had failed.

It is known, that Zanun's Salah a-Din Brigades are specialising in manufacturing powerful explosives in clandestine Gaza workshops and that advanced expertise is constantly coming through the already notoriously known Rafa-based subterranean tunnel smuggling route.

Postscript update - October 31, 2003
The State Department is offering up to $5 million as a reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone involved in the car bomb attack on a U.S. diplomatic convoy two weeks ago in
Gaza. Three American security guards were killed October 15 and a fourth seriously injured as they escorted U.S. diplomats to interviews with Palestinians for Fulbright scholarships. The identities of informants will be protected and their families relocated for their safety, the notice said.