Israeli security forces on March 2, 2005, arrested Osama Mattar, a 20-year-old Palestinian, as he tried to sneak into Gaza. Ravi Nessman of the Associated Press today writes up a jailhouse interview he had with Mattar, in which Mattar told about his five-week terrorist training course in January-February 2005 at a Hamas camp 40 minutes outside Damascus. This marks the first time a Palestinian has spoken publicly about this subject; and it contradicts repeated Syrian denials on the subject. Points of interest:
- Mattar had been recruited from a mosque in the Jebaliya refugee camp, Gaza by Hamas.
- The training base was inspected by Syrian intelligence agents.
- He left Gaza on December 4, 2004, on the excuse that he was going to study at Damascus University, which he in fact had earlier attended. He re-enrolled in the university to maintain his cover and waited 25 days for Hamas to contact him.
Especially interesting is Mattar's account of the terrorist training. He received an initial five days of training in "personal safety."
Osama Mattar, interviewed on Israeli television
He was taught what car to drive—not a Subaru, known as the militants' preferred car. Where to live—not in an isolated house, which can easily be targeted by an Israeli missile. How to keep his cell phone secure—regularly change the phone, the phone number and even the battery, he said.
Then came the real training, which came after Mattar being given a place to rendezvous and driven to the Hamas training base.
Nearly every day, he was taken to the base for five hours of training by nine instructors in everything from electronics to weapons. He gave only vague descriptions of the base, saying it was in a valley and appeared old and well-established. It contained a garage, several buildings, watchtowers and a tunnel, he said. Mattar … was taught to read maps and use a compass, to build an electric timer for a time bomb and how to use light weapons. He fired rocket-propelled grenades and threw hand grenades.
Comment: Assuming this account is accurate, it makes mincemeat of the official Syrian denials of Palestinian terrorist training and further shows the deception of the regime's promises to Washington to close these down. (March 29, 2005)
April 4, 2005 update: The Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center at the Center for Special Studies put out a more complete rendition of the interview with Osama Mattar (including excerpts of the video, with English subtitles)