March 16, 2001
Mahmoud Demara, the Ramallah commander of Yasser Arafat’s presidential
guard, Force 17, is also the head of a terrorist gang that has killed
eight Israelis and wounded about 20 over the past five months, the Shin
Bet security service said yesterday.
Demara’s role in the gang emerged from an interrogation of three members
who were arrested in Qalandiyah earlier this week.
The three said they had planned to detonate a bomb in Jerusalem’s Neve
Ya’akov neighborhood, near the headquarters of the IDF’s Central Command,
and then plant other bombs in gas stations and clubs around Jerusalem,
security services sources said.
Details of the investigation released by the Shin Bet yesterday indicate
the “hard core” of the group, comprising some 25 members, comes from Force
17. Demara, as its leader, is the one who chose the group’s targets, planned
the attacks and supplied gang members with weapons from Force 17’s arsenal.
Shin Bet officials said they are also investigating the group’s ties to
Marwan Barghouti, one of the leaders of Arafat’s Fatah faction on the West
Bank, and the heads of Force 17 and the Palestinian intelligence
service. The heads of the Palestinian security services appear to have
known about the gang’s activities, the Shin Bet officials said, but made
no effort to prevent its attacks on Israel.
“There are reasonable indications that some of the heads of the services were aware of this activity, even in the initial stages
of formation,” one Shin Bet official said.
The three men captured in Qalandiyah said they had orders from their
superiors to carry out the planned Neve Ya’akov bombing this past
Sunday. Two of the three were arrested only a few hours before the planned
The three were identified as Mahmoud Matar, 20; Ziad Wahadan, 25; and
Youssef Matir, 22. Wahadan is one of the leaders of the Fatah in Qalandiyah.
Despite the arrests, several members of the gang, including Demara, were
still at large in Palestinian-controlled territory. Most are believed to
be in Ramallah – which was the reason for the closure of the city imposed
earlier this week by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).
Though the bulk of the group is from Force 17, it also includes members of
Hamas and Nayaf Hawatmeh’s Democratic Front for the Liberation of
Palestine. Its activities covered a large portion of the West Bank: the
areas around Jerusalem, Ramallah, Nablus and Jenin.
In total, the gang has carried out some 25 shooting attacks over the past
five months, and has now begun preparing bombs. Its fatal attacks include
the killing of a security guard at the National Insurance Institute in
East Jerusalem on October 30; a shooting near Ofra on November 13, in
which two soldiers and a civilian were killed; the killing of a civilian
employed by the IDF near the Tapuah Junction on November 24; the shooting
of a civilian on the Jerusalem-Modi’in Highway on December 20; and the
killing of the Kahane couple near Ofra.