Dozens of armed gunmen from the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades stormed the Nablus apartment where kidnapped US citizen Michael Leighton Phillips was being held and freed the American youth.
A senior al-Aqsa member who took part in the operation told Ynet that Phillips, who was held for 24 hours, was found tied up in the apartment; according to him, one of the kidnappers agreed to disclose the location of the apartment in return for a guarantee that he would not be harmed. The al-Aqsa member added that the kidnappers’ trail leads to Gaza and that they acted on behalf of a known terror group; he refused to name the organization.
However, Palestinian Legislative Council member Jamal Tirawi, who oversaw the efforts to release Phillips, blamed elements in Gaza for the kidnapping, particularly the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC).
According to Tirawi, the incident was part of the security-related anarchy organized by Interior Minister Said Siam.
Tirawi said President Mahmoud Abbas apologized to the American youth, adding that the affair tainted the Palestinian nation’s image.
But a senior PRC member told Ynet that the organization was not involved in the kidnapping.
“The Committees activity is clear as day, and despite our hatred toward the United States for its support of Israel, we do not support the kidnapping of innocent American citizens. We focus our struggle on the occupation.”
According to the PLC member said the group is being accused of involvement in the incident to “deepen the schism within the Palestinian nation.”
“The kidnappers acted in the name of an irresponsible group in Gaza, but we will not let Palestine turn into Iraq or Afghanistan,” he said.
Phillips was initially taken to the home of a PLO Executive Committee member’s home, where he was surrounded by dozens of media crews.
He spoke to Ynet immediately after his release and said he want disappointed in the Palestinian people, “even though I can’t exactly say that they treated me kindly.”
According to Phillips, he was held by his captors for 48 hours. “I don’t know who the kidnappers where or what they wanted, but I know who put me in the taxi that I was kidnapped from,” he said.
He refused to describe how the kidnappers treated him, and only said: “I can’t say they treated my politely or kindly.”
Earlier, the Ansar A-Sunna Palestinian terror group said it had kidnapped an American youth in Nablus and demanded the release of Palestinian prisoners held in Israel in exchange for his release. The group is well known as being active in Iraq and identifies with al-Qaeda.
In the afternoon hours, the kidnappers gathered a press conference to announce their demands: The release of women, children, elderly and infirm being held in Israeli prisons, and a halt to air force strikes on Palestinian areas.
A blurred photocopy of a passport and student card carrying the American youth’s name was sent to the Reuters news agency.
Samah Atout, manager of Project Hope, said Phillips was working in refugee camps near the West Bank city of Nablus, teaching English. Palestinian residents of Nablus told Ynet that Phillips had been working for an UNRWA school in the Askar refugee camp for the past four months on a fully volunteer basis.
"He loved the work, the students and the whole of the Palestinian people, and would bring gifts to his students because he felt their poverty,” a Nablus resident told Ynet. He defined the kidnapping as anti-national, unpatriotic and damaging to Palestinian interests.
Ala Sanqara and Rabia Abu Leil, chiefs in the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades who liberated Phillips, said that as soon as they learned of the kidnapping, al-Aqsa operatives searched all the places where gunmen affiliated with the organization hung out.
From their perspective, they explained, freeing the captive became a national mission intended to prevent the sullying of the Palestinian image in the eyes of the international community.
In an earlier conversation with Ynet, Abu Leil said al-Aqsa was in no way connected with the kidnapping. “Not only are we not connected, but we severely condemn the whole business. If this youth was kidnapped in Nablus itself, then this is very since the foreign youths that are here despite the circumstances are generally volunteers who come to help us by teaching and humanitarian aid.”