JERUSALEM – A long-wanted terrorist chief arrested yesterday by Israeli forces was trained by the U.S., served in a senior capacity on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ U.S.-backed security detail and was a ranking member of a team that received and distributed American arms shipments the past two years, WND has learned.
Khaled Shawish, an officer in Abbas’ Force 17 presidential guards, was captured by undercover Israeli police forces following scores of shooting attacks he is suspected of carrying out.
Shawish doubles as the Ramallah chief of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades terror group. He previously boasted of involvement in a West Bank shooting attack in December 2000 that killed Israeli ultranationalist leader Benjamin Kahane and Kahane’s wife, Talya.
The Brigades, the declared “military wing” of Abbas’ Fatah party, took credit along with the Islamic Jihad terror group for every suicide bombing in Israel the past two years and for multiple deadly shootings and rocket attacks.
After the Kahane murder, Shawish was extended refuge by Arafat to live in the late PLO leader’s Ramallah compound, widely known as the Muqata.
Shawish continued the past seven years to live in the Muqata, from which, according to Israeli security officials, he directed the Brigades to carry out scores of shootings against Israelis driving on West Bank roads. Israel says Shawish also directed a number of suicide bombings targeting Jewish cities, killing eight Israelis.
According to Israel and Palestinian security sources, Shawish, as a member of Force 17, received U.S. training in 1997 at an American managed military base in the West Bank city of Jericho. The base continues to train Force 17 members. A number of other Brigades members who also double as Force 17 officers previously received U.S. training.
The U.S. in recent months reportedly transferred large quantities of weapons to Fatah, purportedly to back Abbas’ military organizations in recent deadly clashes against Hamas.
The last confirmed U.S. weapons transfer to the Palestinians took place last May and consisted of 3,000 assault rifles, but WND reported multiple other transfers later were delivered to Fatah, including a cache of 7,000 rifles last January and about 8,000 assault rifles in February.
The weapons mostly arrived in convoys through the Jordan-Israel border and then reportedly were trucked by the Israel Defense Forces to the Gaza Strip and to Ramallah. The Ramallah shipments were received at the Muqata and a neighboring Force 17 base in which Shawish lives, according to Israeli and Palestinian security sources.
The sources said Shawish was part of the Force 17 team that inspected and distributed the American weapons to other Fatah militia members. According to the sources, Shawish himself has taken possession the past two years of multiple American assault rifles.
The information comes after WND reported last week the U.S. has sent diplomatic messages to the Palestinians that if aid were requested, Washington would bolster Abbas’ Fatah organization in clashes against Hamas, including providing Fatah with American weapons, according to senior Israeli and Palestinian diplomatic sources.
The sources said Maj. Gen. Keith Dayton, the U.S. security coordinator for the Gaza Strip and West Bank, passed messages to Abbas that the U.S. would aid Fatah with assault rifles and ammunition if the assistance is needed. The sources also said Dayton urged Israel to provide assistance to bolster Abbas’ security forces in Gaza, particularly Force 17.
After forging a unity government in February that ended several rounds of deadly factional Palestinian infighting, Fatah and Hamas the past three weeks engaged in heated gun battles killing over 68 Palestinians in some of the deadliest internal clashes in Gaza in months. Abbas’ decision to station thousands of loyalist security forces on the streets of Gaza without consulting Hamas touched off the violence.
Millions in taxpayer dollars going to terror chief’s unit
Congress last month approved $59 million in aid to Fatah’s militias after an earlier Bush administration pledge of $86.4 million was blocked for fear the money might reach terrorists. The aid package contains a new qualification stipulating the money must not be used to purchase weapons.
The vast majority of the U.S. aid is slated to bolster Abbas’ Force 17 security forces.
Israel has raided Force 17 compounds on multiple occasions and arrested wanted terrorists from the units. WND reported Israel earlier this month arrested 18 Fatah fighters in the West Bank wanted for shootings against Israeli civilians. Seventeen of those arrested also were members of the Brigades, Israeli and Palestinian security officials said.
Abbas last June appointed senior Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades leader Mahmoud Damra as commander of Force 17. Damra, who was arrested by Israel in November, was on the Jewish state’s most-wanted list of terrorists. According to Force 17 sources, Shawish was Damra’s main deputy.
WND in March quoted Israeli and Palestinian security officials stating intelligence and security organizations associated with Fatah, including Force 17, are infiltrated by Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other terrorist organizations.
A top Palestinian intelligence official admitted to WND: “We are leading a large number of investigations and some of the results prove that such an infiltration by Hamas (of Fatah’s security and intelligence forces) exists.”
The official oversees intelligence for Fatah’s police forces in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
“I can say that in some cases we diagnosed a deep infiltration to high posts in some Fatah security services,” the high-ranking Palestinian intelligence officer told WND. “In some cases we believe there are officers that are exposed to very sensitive information.”
He said since the U.S. announced it is providing Abbas’ forces with additional funds, Fatah intelligence officials at the direction of American security coordinators here have been attempting to expel Hamas infiltrators. He said in the past month “dozens” of members of Hamas, the Popular Resistance Committees and Islamic Jihad were found operating in the Fatah forces.
The U.S. has been attempting to isolate Hamas, which it labels a terrorist group. The Popular Resistance Committees regularly carries out rocket and shooting attacks and took credit for a 2003 bombing in Gaza that killed three American contractors.
Terrorists: We infiltrated U.S.-funded militias
Terror leaders and spokesmen for terror groups told WND their militants are “well-placed” within Fatah’s militias.
Muhammad Abdel El, spokesman for the Committees, told WND Fatah’s attempts to discover militants from his group “have not even scratched the surface of our infiltration.”
“We are very well-placed within Fatah’s units and their little investigations made no difference,” he said.
Abu Abdullah, a leader of Hamas’ military wing in the Gaza Strip, told WND, “It doesn’t seem Fatah’s campaign to oust Hamas from inside their organizations has made a difference for us as far as our penetration of Fatah.”
Fatah attempts to expel Hamas members from its midst might be in vain since the two factions last month agreed to forge their militias together and incorporate Hamas militias and terror cells into a unified security force under the authority Abbas.
The PA cabinet approved a comprehensive security plan that incorporates Fatah and Hamas militias into one central organization. According to the plan, Hamas’ so-called military wing, responsible for scores of anti-Israel terror attacks, will be allowed to continue operating under the aegis of the PA’s Interior Ministry. The plan calls for all armed organizations, including the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades terror group, to maintain a single operations center under the authority of Abbas.
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