'Israel freed top terrorists caught on flotilla'
Intelligence community enraged by decision to release chief Hamas fundraiser and Syrian official serving as liaison officer for Iranian intelligence, who were captured onboard Turkish-owned ship. 'Why did they let this asset go while Gilad Shalit is still in captivity?' defense official asks
The Turkish-owned ship, which was raided by the Israeli Navy early last week, had onboard two senior terrorists posing as "peace activists", the Yedioth Ahronoth daily reported Friday.
The two were identified as a senior Hamas fundraiser and a Syrian intelligence official serving as the liaison officer for Iranian intelligence in the Balkans.
Senior intelligence officials are enraged over the two men's release and are calling for a thorough investigation. "(Kidnapped soldier) Gilad Shalit is in captivity," one of the officials said, "and we are letting this asset go."
Amin Abu-Rashid, 43, a Holland national of Palestinian descent who lives in Rotterdam, is nicknamed "Amin Abu-Ibrahim" by Hamas members. The Israeli intelligence considers him one of the leaders of the Palestinian movement's fundraising system and the chief Hamas fundraiser in Western Europe.
According to the organization's publications, he lost his hand "in the struggle against the occupation", although this detail could not be verified in any photos. He had close ties with Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, the senior Hamas commander who was assassinated in Dubai, and according to intelligence material, his role in Hamas was to find ways to smuggle money to the organization's groups in Gaza and particularly in the West Bank.
During the "peace sail", Abu-Rashid served as spokesperson and commander of the Palestinian-Hamas part of the "campaign to end the siege on Gaza". In interviews he gave in January, he declared that he was planning to confront the Israel Defense Forces' soldiers and was presented as "the leader of Palestinians who are European citizens" on the flotilla.
Abu-Rashid was not hurt during the deadly Navy takeover of the Marmara ship. He was arrested and held in a Beersheba facility for several days. During his detention he was offered "a quick release procedure" due to this Dutch citizenship, but he refused to use it out of principle.
According to Serbian news agency FOCUS, another "peace activist" onboard the ship was Yasser Muhammad Sabag, a Syrian intelligence officer serving as the liaison officer between Damascus and Tehran's intelligence networks in the Balkans. Sabag has a dual citizenship from Syria and Bosnia and Herzegovina, where he lives nowadays.
'No wonder he was on the ship'
The news agency reported that Sabag had returned to Sarajevo from Israel together with a Turkish activist in the al-Qaeda-affiliated IHH organization, which organized the flotilla. In the past, Sabag was active in the Abu Nidal terrorist organization, where he was also in charge of intelligence.
"With such a biography, it's no wonder that he found himself on that ship," the Serbian agency said, "but it safe to say that he was not planning to bring any humanitarian aid to Gaza."
The Israeli intelligence community understands the great value of these two men as well. Senior defense establishment officials on Thursday expressed their rage over the particularly big mistake made by Israel in releasing the two.
"I don't know why Abu-Rashid was released," said a senior intelligence official. "It might have been because they failed to identify him and did not know who they had caught, or because they know who he was and decided to release him in any case. I don’t know which option is worse."
The IDF Spokesperson's Unit said in response, "The IDF does not elaborate on the interrogation of detainees. The release decision was not made by the army."
Itamar Eichner contributed to this report