Following are excerpts from an interview with Shehada Jawhar, Former Al-Qaeda Official in Charge of Training in Iraq, which aired on Al-Arabiya TV on December 7, 2007.
Interviewer: Who is Shehada Jawhar? Who are you? Who is "Abu Omar"?
Jawhar: I am a Muslim human being, a Palestinian. I am a refugee, living in the Palestinian refugee camps (in Lebanon).
Interviewer: What do you work in, in 'Ein Al-Hilweh?
Jawhar: I am a dealer – a weapons dealer.
Interviewer: You work as a weapons dealer?
Jawhar: Yes. What's wrong with that? Is it forbidden, or something?
Interviewer: You do this in the 'Ein Al-Hilweh refugee camp, or outside?
Jawhar: From 'Ein Al-Hilweh outside and vice versa.
Interviewer: From 'Ein Al-Hilweh outside...
Jawhar: People come to 'Ein Al-Hilweh to buy weapons, and others come to sell weapons.
Interviewer: From Lebanon or abroad?
Jawhar: They come from Lebanon. What do you expect, people from Antioch?
Interviewer: Do they come from Palestinian refugee camps?
Jawhar: No, from here. From Sidon and Beirut. They are Lebanese. Most of the people who buy weapons are Lebanese, not Palestinians.
Interviewer: Who supplies the weapons you sell?
Jawhar: The refugee camp is full of weapons. Weapons dealers come to the camp all the time. They come with licenses. The state helps them get the weapons in.
Interviewer: How did you come up with the idea of going to Iraq?
Jawhar: Most of the Muslim youth in Lebanon would set their sights on Jihad in Iraq. As you know, in general, the Lebanese structure and system prevent you from going to fight in Palestine, even though Palestine take precedence over Iraq and all the other countries. Palestine is our main cause. The structure here in Lebanon is completely messed up. You have to pass a hundred thousand obstacles in order to be able to fight the Jews is Palestine. That's impossible, because nobody – without any exception – wants the Muslim youth to go and fight the Jews. Even those who do fight the Jews do this out of their own considerations, and not out of ideology. I say this about everybody, with no exception. Therefore, Iraq is closer than Palestine – not in terms of distance, but in the sense that you can fight there, because everybody opens the gates to Iraq, but closes the gates to Palestine, even though it is more important.
Interviewer: So you went to Iraq to wage Jihad.
Jawhar: Yes. Did you think I went there to join their bowling or basketball team?
Interviewer: How did you get there? Through a mediator? Who was he? Where did you go from 'Ein Al-Hilweh?
Jawhar: From the Syrian border, a Syrian guy took us...The smuggler was Syrian, and he took us to some place I don't know in Damascus, and then a van came and took us to the heart of Damascus. Then one of the brothers in charge of receiving [the mujahideen] came. All this was coordinated in advance. It's not like when you go on a trip. Everything was coordinated – from here to Shtura, from Shtura to Damascus, and from Damascus to Iraq. Everything was coordinated by the brothers in charge of this stuff. They receive brothers and send them on. It's all organized. Nothing is improvised.
Interviewer: So when you got [to Iraq], they put you in a "guesthouse."
Jawhar: It was a regular house. We call any house where we stay a "guesthouse."
Interviewer: And after the guesthouse?
Jawhar: To work.
Interviewer: What was your role? What did you do?
Jawhar: I went there to conduct military training.
Interviewer: What kind of training?
Jawhar: I trained the brothers to wage guerilla warfare.
Interviewer: What kind of guerilla warfare?
Jawhar: By definition, guerilla warfare in the war of the weak against the strong. Guerilla warfare differs from war between two regular armies.
Interviewer: So you trained them to fight with weapons?
Jawhar: I trained them in urban warfare, raids, ambushes, and attacks. That's what guerilla warfare is about.
Interviewer: Did you participate in operations?
Interviewer: What kind of operations?
Jawhar: Regular things. We used to attack the Americans. We used to carry out operations against the American bases in Iraq. We also used to set ambushes and attack American posts.
Interviewer: You say "against the Americans," but did you target only the Americans?
Jawhar: Everybody was targeted, but the Americans took precedence.
Interviewer: Who is "everybody"?
Jawhar: Whoever fights against "there is no god but Allah." Is someone who defends the Americans any better than them? The infidels are one and the same. An infidel is an infidel – whether he is a Palestinian, a Jew, or an Argentinean. The infidels are one and the same, while an American Muslim is a Muslim. So what's the problem? What, an Iraqi who is an apostate and who helps the Americans should be treated like a VIP? He is worse than the Americans.
Interviewer: Did you support the ideology of Al-Qaeda when you left for Iraq?
Jawhar: What, Al-Qaeda invented this ideology? They got their ideology from the Koran and the Sunna.
Interviewer: Did you meet people of different nationalities...
Jawhar: By Allah, people came and were martyred, and we didn't even know their nationalities. Let me tell you something – one brother was martyred, and we are still trying to guess whether he was from Eritrea, Yemen, or Sudan.
Interviewer: Brother Abu Omar, from your experience, what nationalities were prevalent there, apart from the Iraqis, of course...
Jawhar: There were Iraqis there?!
Interviewer: I mean apart from the Iraqis...
Jawhar: There were no Iraqis with us.
Interviewer: Are you serious?
Jawhar: They would go to sleep in their homes, while we slept in our posts.
Interviewer: They weren't afraid to sleep in their homes?
Jawhar: Why should they be afraid? Most of them were not known [as Al-Qaeda members]. Only a few of them were known to be Al-Qaeda members. They protect their identity when they move about.
Interviewer: So there are Iraqis...
Jawhar: There are many who are not recognized as Al-Qaeda members. They all wear ski masks.
Interviewer: When they carry out operations?
Jawhar: Yes. We had with us brothers from Tunisia, from Libya, Algeria, Morocco...To be honest, I never saw anyone from Mauritania there. There were Egyptian brothers, brothers from the Arabian Peninsula...I met several brothers from Kuwait, a brother from Qatar...There were Palestinians, Syrians of course, and Jordanians...
Interviewer: How many squads did you train in Iraq?
Jawhar: By Allah, many. I conducted training throughout the time I was there.
Interviewer: How many members did each squad have?
Jawhar: It depends – five, six, seven...In some areas, we couldn't have large squads. It depended on the area. In some areas, we could train without any problem, and in other areas, training was a little difficult.
Interviewer: The security forces were after you, of course.
Jawhar: If it was just the security forces, there wouldn't be a problem. The problem was the airplanes above. You didn't even know when a plane was following you from above.
Interviewer: Where would you conduct training?
Jawhar: In forests and woods...The only thing we worried about was [the planes] above. We didn't worry about anything but the spy planes. The thing the fighters in Iraq worried about most was these planes, because the Americans have superiority in the air only. A plane, several kilometers away, can see you, hear you, and take pictures of you. The only problem in Iraq is the air force.
Interviewer: Where did you conduct your training? How could you possibly train so many people, without anybody hearing the shooting, and without raising the suspicions of anybody in the region?
Jawhar: These areas were basically under our control. It's impossible for me to go into a house, knowing that someone might go and turn me in. These areas were entirely secured.
Interviewer: So the entire region belonged to you – to the Al-Qaeda organization or its supporters.
Jawhar: If it didn't belong to us, it was at least under out control. All these areas were under the control of the Al-Qaeda organization.
Interviewer: Who are "Ansar Al-Sunna"?
Jawhar: Originally, they were Kurds. They were near the Jordanian-Iraq border, and later, they spread throughout Iraq. At first, they were called "Ansar Al-Islam," and then they became "Ansar Al-Sunna."
Interviewer: Is Ansar Al-Sunna in agreement with Al-Qaeda? Do they participate in the operations, and share the same ideology, in theory and in practice?
Jawhar: Of course, totally. There is an alliance, and they share the same ideology. Their Emir was called Abu Hassan Al-Shaf'ei.
Interviewer: Did you meet Abu Mus'ab Al-Zarqawi?
Jawhar: Sheik Abu Mus'ab did not appear very often. Not all the brothers met him. But sometimes, Sheik Abu Mus'ab would conduct a visit to our bases, and he would come unannounced. We would be sitting around, and the guys would walk in along with the sheik. They would sit with us for 15 minutes, half and hour, and then they would say goodbye and move on.
Interviewer: What exactly did he ask you to do?
Jawhar: Once he sent a brother as his representative, and asked me to carry out operations in the Baghdad area.
Interviewer: Did you carry them out?
Jawhar: Yes, Allah be praised.
Interviewer: What kind of operations?
Jawhar: Car bombings and killings. Regular stuff. What else could he be asking from us?
Interviewer: Against Iraqis, or...
Jawhar: No, against the Americans.
Jawhar: I have the ability to produce [explosives] from chemicals, and I can also use [ready-made explosives].
Interviewer: And these substances are available?
Jawhar: Yes, they are available in the markets. I cannot reveal exactly how I make them, because tomorrow someone might start selling them in the market.
Interviewer: From where would you get your cars?
Jawhar: Some of the cars we drove belonged to the brothers, and others were booty we took from the Americans or the Iraqis. So we used these cars.
Interviewer: From where did you get money? Where did the funding of Al-Qaeda in Iraq come from?
Jawhar: We used to get aid from abroad and we used to take booty. If we took 200-300 cars as booty – do you expect us to drive them all? So we sold them to the Kurds, and this way we got money.
Interviewer: Did you sell them specifically to the Kurds?
Jawhar: Yes, the Kurds buy even police cars. If we took a police car as booty, they would buy it without a problem. The Kurds have a lot of money now. The richest people in Iraq are the Kurds, then come the Shiites, and the Sunnis are the poorest of all.
Interviewer: Could you elaborate on the organizational structure, from the top of the pyramid to the lower divisions?
Jawhar: Brother Abu Mus'ab, Allah's mercy upon him, was at the top of the pyramid. Then came the brothers who were in charge of the different regions, like the Emir of the Baghdad belt, the Emir of Al-Anbar, the Emir of Mosul. Then came the administrative emirs. Then came the Emir in charge of religious ruling, and then the military Emir. The military Emir commanded the Emir of explosive devices, the Emir of shelling, the Emir of attacks, who was in charge of attacks, and the Emir in charge of booty. There is the administrative Emir, and then there is the military Emir. Under the military Emir, come the rest of the emirs in charge of the military activity.
Interviewer: Were you an Emir over there?
Jawhar: I was the Emir of training. I was the Emir who trained the brothers, and I had a training camp.
Jawhar: In Al-Haditha.
Jawhar: People from the Syrian intelligence came, and asked to meet with Shiek Abu Mus'ab. They said to him: "Brother, what weapons do you need?" They wanted to help, but [Al-Zarqawi] said: "No, we've got everything we need." He wouldn't take anything from them, even though we were in dire need of weapons. We didn't want to take anything from the Syrians, so it wouldn't be said the next day that we cooperated with them. This was the position of Sheik Abu Mus'ab. He was in need of every single bullet, and was offered whatever he wanted. He said: "I'm fighting the Americans, with or without you. Why should I fight the Americans on your behalf?"
Interviewer: How could the Syrian intelligence reach Abu Mus'ab Al-Zarqawi? What was their purpose? What did the Syrian intelligence want?
Jawhar: It is not in the Syrians' interest that Iraq remain calm even for a moment. They benefit from this. The more Iraq is destroyed, the more pleased they are, because if the Americans feel comfortable in Iraq, they will move on to many other places. For the same reasons, it is not in the Iranians' interest...I don't know if you noticed, but the Shiites started fighting the Americans only two years ago. It's not the Shiites – the Iranians asked them to fight, and sent them weapons, explosive devices, and so on, because if the Americans feel comfortable in Iraq, they will move on to the other areas. Have you forgotten about the New Middle East?
Jawhar: We had with us a Tunisian brother, may Allah accept him [as a martyr], who managed to intercept the signals from the spy planes, and he could see everything the Americans were seeing.
Interviewer: So there were people who specialized in technology?
Jawhar: We had an American brother with us, we had a Belgian brother and French brothers with us. They were all educated intellectuals. I had with me a brother who had an M.A. in economics. He once conducted a study about the losses incurred following 9/11. He calculated the American economic losses down to the last cent.
Interviewer: Where was he from?
Jawhar: He was a Palestinian from Jordan. He had British citizenship as well.
Interviewer: Was there any contact between the main Al-Qaeda organization and Al-Qaeda in Iraq and the other branches?
Jawhar: When Sheik Abu Mus'ab, Allah's mercy upon him, pledged allegiance to Sheik Osama, naturally, contacts were formed.
Interviewer: How were these contacts held? Through the Internet?
Jawhar: This I don't know.
Interviewer: Through mediators?
Jawhar: I don't know.
Interviewer: When did you join 'Usbat Al-Ansar?
Jawhar: In 1991.
Interviewer: Why did you join them?
Jawhar: Because of their ideology. They call for Jihad, the revival of the Islamic Caliphate, and the liberation of Palestine, and these ideas appealed to me. After all, I'm a Muslim, so I joined 'Usbat Al-Ansar.
Interviewer: You train people now. Who trained you?
Jawhar: I received training when I was in 'Usbat Al-Ansar, and before that, I was a member of the Fatah youth. In general, most Palestinians know how to use weapons.
Interviewer: Did you go to Afghanistan or Pakistan?
Jawhar: I wish I had, but it didn't work out. I didn't have the honor of going there.
Interviewer: Do you hope to return to Iraq?
Jawhar: No, what for? Palestine in closer.
Jawhar: We had a clash with the PLO. It's nothing to be ashamed of. What, they can kill us, but we can't kill them? It's only natural. They should prove whatever they accuse us of. Do they have any evidence? They have no evidence, but they issue verdicts.
Interviewer: Were you sentenced to death?
Jawhar: I got several death sentences and was also sentenced to life imprisonment. There's nothing to it. What's the problem? They can pile on as many sentences as they like. This is a sign of honor for me.
Interviewer: Do you consider yourself to be a terrorist?
Jawhar: Yes, a terrorist. What's the problem with that? If I want to terrorize the enemies of Allah, what's the problem with that?
Interviewer: Abu Omar, does Al-Qaeda exist in Lebanon?
Jawhar: Not as far as I know, because Sheik Osama is not interested in Lebanon or even in Syria.
Jawhar: With regard to operations, I didn't have to go to the Emir in charge of religious rulings, but if we arrested, let's say, an Iraqi...In most cases, you need a religious ruling during interrogation. But if I were to go to the Emir and ask him if I'm allowed to fight the Americans, I would be considered an idiot. But with regard to the Iraqis and other issues, you need to consult the Emir in charge of religious rulings.
Interviewer: Did you ever participate in any kidnapping operation?
Jawhar: Yes, I once kidnapped someone in the city of Hit. What's the problem? I took him and left the market. An American patrol was passing by, but what's the problem?
Interviewer: Why did you kidnap him?
Jawhar: Because he collaborated with the Americans.
Interviewer: Was he Iraqi?
Interviewer: What did you do with him?
Jawhar: We took him for "a walk."
Interviewer: What kind of a walk?
Jawhar: We passed him over to the brothers who conduct the interrogations. My job was just to grab him. The brothers who conduct the interrogations dealt with him.
Interviewer: Who decides what to do with him?
Jawhar: The Emir in charge of religious rulings makes the decision whether he should be killed, flogged, reprimanded, released, or imprisoned. The Emir in charge of religious rulings decides.
Interviewer: Did you kidnap people for ransom?
Jawhar: The Islamic law prohibits this, unless they are infidels. I am allowed to kidnap an infidel for ransom, but not a Muslim or an apostate.
Jawhar: Sheik Abu Mus'ab was offered millions of dollars when they kidnapped the Egyptian ambassador, but he refused, because Islamic law required the killing of the ambassador.
Interviewer: Were you there?
Jawhar: No, I was here.
Interviewer: Do you know what became of him?
Jawhar: They slaughtered him.
Interviewer: How come Al-Qaeda has the right to execute people?
Jawhar: Of course it has. What's the problem? How come those idiots here in Lebanon, in Jordan, or anywhere else have the right to sentence people to death or imprisonment? What, are they any better than me?