Searching for the Al Aqsa Brigades in Ireland?

My contact with a known terrorist who should be behind bars.

In 2007 the Israeli government under Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced that it was willing to grant amnesty to members of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the terror arm of PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party, in exchange for a pledge that the group's fighters lay down their arms and renounce violence.

Since that time, despite a still active Gaza branch and many documented attacks in the West Bank for which the brigades have taken credit, Israeli journalists and commentators have declared the organization disbanded.

Imagine my surprise, therefore, when in the end of November ,I read on the Palestinian news agency Qudsnet's website that a spokesman for the Brigades, one Abu-Udai, had declared that the brigades were still extant and that they were only refraining from carrying out attacks due to a tactical decision by Abu Mazen [Abbas] to pursue a diplomatic track.

The brigades, he explained, had "stopped the armed struggle against the occupation" in response to the "request of the Palestinian leadership, headed by Abu Mazen, to give the opportunity for the political process."

Abu-Udai, cited as a "leading figure in the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades," asserted that unless Israel accepted Palestinian demands, restoring the "rights of return" [sic] and ceasing "Judaizing Jerusalem," the Palestinians would be forced to "resume armed attacks against Israeli targets in the occupied Palestinian territories."

A quick Google search revealed that Abu Udai had been speaking for the brigades for some years and had been extensively quoted by Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot.

It quickly became clear that some terrorists had indeed laid down their weapons, but that others, mostly split into a network of small, not always interconnected cells, were still active. I further learned, or at least Abu-Udai would later claim, that they still retained, to a certain degree, under the orders of Abu Mazen.

"Actually, [it's] all one group, Al Aqsa Brigade," former terrorist and friend of Abu-Udai, Rami Kamel would later tell me, "but you know how they work. Each [local branch on each] side of the country, it work[s that] if you have a chance to do anything, you do it straightaway."

After making an indecent number of queries as to Abu-Udai's identity, I finally ran across Raed Othman, the director of the Palestinian Maan News Network.

Raed informed me that Abu-Udai was in fact Jihad Jeara; a fact later corroborated by another Palestinian journalist in contact with the brigades' spokesman, and then by the militant himself.

Jeara, a former officer of the Palestinian Authority's Preventative Security Service, was exiled to Ireland in 2002 as part of deal to end the siege of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. He has been implicated in several murders, including that of Avi Boaz, a 71 year old American living the Gush Etzion city of Maaleh Adumim.

As I spoke with him by phone, Jeara confirmed that he is indeed Abu Udai, an identity that he has used while speaking on behalf of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades over the past several years. The former Bethlehem-based gunman claimed that he was still involved in "resistance" against Israel.

"I never broke the law in Ireland," he explained, "but it is my family and it is my land in Palestine and of course I will be always looking and care to have our freedom [sic] and I will do all my might and I will have all my power to continue about what I start."

When queried whether he was involved in a still active faction of the brigades, Jeara replied that his organization now has "a ceasefire with the Israelis" in order to "give a chance for our President and our Prime Minister and to show the world that we are looking for peace."

"But I mean what I said before," he emphasized. "If the peace fails, it will bring the people to fight."

Jeara predicted that the Palestinians will soon resume operations against Israeli targets.

In a statement several days before the recent murder of a sleeping family in the West Bank town of Itamar, Jeara told me that Israel "will not stop killing our kids, our people" and that "their lives, their kids, they are not more important than our people."

The brigades initially claimed responsibility for the attack, a declaration that they almost immediately retracted.

Jeara declined to disclose the size of the faction that he claims to represent but did say that he is still connected to Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party.

Nevertheless, Abu Yazzan, a former spokesman for the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades claims that Jeara no longer represents the organization.

"Abu Udai doesn’t represent the brigades," Abu Yazzan said. "His statements don’t represent the brigades, and currently they don’t make any statements."

Jeara responded with disbelief that Abu Yazzan would deny his connection to the West Bank terrorist organization. The exile expressed anger and outrage during a follow-up interview, claiming that he had spoken to Abu Yazzan and that the former spokesman had denied speaking to the media or saying that Jeara was not a leader of the brigades.

There has been debate as to Jeara's precise role and whether or not he can still be considered a player. However, what is known is that by making threats against Israelis, Jeara is most likely in violation of the terms by which he is required to abide in exchange of sanctuary in Ireland.

Despite the unwillingness of the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's bureau to disclose the exact terms of the agreement that sent Jeara into exile, Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor did tell me that if Jeara has indeed been "sending out threats of violence, this is a very serious breach of the terms of his stay in Ireland and Irish law enforcement authorities should deal with this problem at once."

The Irish government, however, has been reluctant to offer comment.

A representative of the Irish Justice Department told me that "it is not the practice to comment on security matters."

The Justice Department did disclose, however, that "the activities of individuals who may be of interest to law enforcement authorities are monitored.  Furthermore, where evidence exists of any breaches of Irish law, including any offences under the Criminal Justice (Terrorist Offences) Act 2005, these will be fully investigated by An Garda Síochána (the national police force)."

One veteran Palestinian journalist, who spoke to me on the condition of anonymity, mused that while Jeara is "really involved in something…he sometimes publishes stuff to keep being relevant."

"Officially, the Aqsa Martyrs Brigades announced that they are dismantled two-and-a-half years ago and even the attacks that were carried out were carried out by individuals and not by the organization as an organization with cells," he said.

"The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades is a jungle," he told me. "Saying that Jihad Jeara is involved is true, but it is not true on the other hand, and there is nothing that he was involved in [during] the last three years."

This would seem to indicate that while he may not have been directly connected to terrorism in the past three years, he may have been involved in terrorist acts since his arrival in Ireland nearly a decade ago.

"Now he is involved in trying to organize the movement in the political process that has been taking place in the movement [sic]," the journalist said, "but on the ground there is nothing that is being carried out by the organization so he can say yes he did it or he was part of it."

Not everybody agrees that the brigades are defunct, however.

The government of New Zealand declared that the brigades are active when it designated them as a terror organization in December.

According to a statement provided by the New Zealand embassy in Ankara, "the group continues to use violence as a means to achieve its political and ideological objectives, and has carried out recent and specific attacks that meet the definition of a terrorist act under New Zealand’s TSA."

What is clear is that while Jeara may or may not be a serious player, he has in the past directly involved himself in the murder of Israeli and American citizens and that by making threats against Israelis once again, he is most likely violating the terms of his sanctuary in Europe. Israel must seize this opportunity to pressure the government of Ireland to put a known terrorist behind bars.