When target is right, I’ll blow up’


FOR a man intent on strapping a belt of dynamite to his waist and blowing himself up, Mohamed is calm.

The 36-year-old Palestinian from the village of Qastal in the West Bank has a death wish: to become a shaheed, or martyr, and guarantee himself a place in heaven.

‘The Quran tells all Muslims to kill the Americans and Jews and get rid of them as they did to you,’ he said in Arabic and a smattering of English.

In a few days, he and others will be heading to Baghdad with the aim of blowing up coalition forces.

We are speaking at a tiny coffeeshop in Camp Baqaa in west Amman. The largest refugee centre for Palestinians in the Middle East, it comprises bleak cement buildings with corrugated tin roofs.

Mohamed, a slim, 1.7-m-tall man with no moustache and crooked teeth, is wearing a black windbreaker, sweater, jeans and sports shoes. He shows little emotion and smokes four cigarettes during our one-hour interview.

I got his name from Sheikh Nader Assaad Bayyoudh Al-Tamimi, the spiritual leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation’s military wing.

Mohamed – who refuses to reveal his real name or to be photographed without covering his face with a scarf – had received Sheikh Nader’s blessing for his mission.

He was 18 at the beginning of the first Palestinian intifada and 23 during the 1991 Gulf War.

Like many, he regarded the continuing presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia after the war as an outrage.

He was 19 and 20 during the fighting in Bosnia and the killing of the Muslims there. He was 27 when the Americans intervened in Somalia.

His role model is Osama bin Laden: ‘He was a billionaire but gave up his wealth to fight for the cause.’

But he does not think much of President Saddam Hussein as he had heard the Iraqi leader had done ‘a lot of bad things’.

Four times during the interview, he maintained there was nothing abnormal about his desire to be a suicide bomber.

‘Please believe me, I am not mad,’ he said.

He had dreamt of martial glory at a young age. He wanted to fight in Chechnya, the Balkans and Turkestan but could not get there.

When he was in his 20s, he left for the craggy hills south of the West Bank.

For two weeks at a camp set up by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) for volunteer fighters, he learnt how to use light weapons and picked up basic demolition and artillery skills.

He said he graduated from Baghdad University in 1991 with a degree in economics.

He worked in a shop selling textiles in the West Bank, earning about US$600 (S$1,060) a month.

In the span of 10 years, he was arrested thrice by the Israelis for his links to the PIJ. He lost his job and has been without one since.

He is married with two daughters, aged two and seven, and said he has not confided in anyone about his decision to be a suicide bomber. He left his village for Jordan two weeks ago without a word.

‘They are all good Muslims and will rejoice when I kill the Americans,’ he said of his family. In the occupied territories, martyrdom is celebrated by distributing sweets and desserts, he said.

‘That is what my wife and daughters will be doing when I die.’

Underlying his talk of shaheed is hate.

He said he has watched Palestinians getting injured and killed every day fighting Israelis.

‘Don’t you think this life is worthless?’ he asked. ‘There is nothing left for me.’

That is why he took a bus to Amman last week to contact an Iraqi, who will take him and other potential suicide bombers to Baghdad.

The belt of dynamite will be given to him once he is inside. ‘When the target is right, I will blow up,’ he said without emotion.

He dismissed stories that people like him are motivated by promises that their families will be taken care of financially when they die.

‘It is all about religion, not money,’ he said, looking agitated for the first time during the interview.

Asked what his final thoughts will be when he blows himself up, the dead man walking stared me in the eye and said: ‘Shaheed.’

Muslims in the Far East have very little sugar in their coffee. The sweeter the coffee is, the more your understanding of Islam. The less sweet, the less you understand Islam.’
– Mohamed’s reaction when told that not all Muslims believe in killing to achieve a cause

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