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Hamas' Not-So-Secret Weapon
Meet Salah al-Arouri, the Man Behind the Group's Kidnapping Strategy
MATTHEW LEVITT is the Fromer-Wexler fellow and Director of the Stein Program on Counterterrorism at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He is the author of Hamas: Politics, Charity and Terrorism in the Service of Jihad and Hezbollah: The Global Footprint of Lebanon's Party of God.See more by this author
Soon after three Israel teenagers were kidnapped last month, Israeli officials leaked to the press the name of the Hamas operational commander who is believed to be behind a recent surge in kidnapping plots. It was a familiar one for those who follow Hamas closely: Salah al-Arouri, a longtime Hamas operative from the West Bank, who lives openly in Turkey. Now, with the boys’ bodies found and the funerals over, Israeli security forces continue to hunt down the two Hebron-based Hamas operatives believed to have actually carried out the plot. Yet observers and experts are sure to eventually circle back to Arouri, who has been a key figure behind Hamas’ efforts to rejuvenate the group’s terrorist networks in the West Bank.
IN THE BEGINNING
In 2012, Amnesty International described Arouri as “widely held to be one of the founders of the armed wing of Hamas.” In court documents, the U.S. Department of Justice has likewise described him as “a high-ranking Hamas military leader dating back to his role as a Hamas student cell leader at Hebron University in the early 1990s,” where he was recruited.
Arouri’s time at Hebron University is well documented. In 1985, he started studying sharia law there. By the following year, was elected head of the Islamic Faction at the university. These Islamic Blocs (Kutla Islamiya), which are Hamas’ on-campus youth wings, have long been a critical component of Hamas' social and political infrastructure on college campuses, and it was through Arouri’s association with them that he met Muin Shabib, a Hamas operative who headed one at Bir Zeit University, right around the time of the founding of Hamas in 1988. Focused on organizing events and sermons for two years, Arouri and Shabib planned to recruit operatives for a Hamas cell, but these early plots were disrupted by Arouri’s arrest by Israel in November 1990. Released from prison in April 1991, Arouri picked up where he left off planning terrorist operations.