The al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades (كتائب شهداء الأقصى) is a coalition of Palestinian militias in the West Bank. The groups name refers to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem. Unlike other Palestinian militant groups, like Hamas, the brigades aren't Islamists. They have previously sympathized with Fatah. The group has been designated a terrorist group by Israel, the U.S., Canada, the European Union, and Japan.
In November 2003 BBC journalists uncovered a payment by Fatah of $50,000 a month to Al-Aqsa. This investigation, combined with the documents found by the IDF, led Israel to draw the conclusion that the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades have always been directly funded by Arafat. In June 2004 then Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei openly stated this: "We have clearly declared that the Aksa Martyrs Brigades are part of Fatah. We are committed to them and Fatah bears full responsibility for the group. In July he further declared "The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, military wing of the Fatah movement will not be dissolved and Fatah will never relinquish its military wing.
Israel arrested Marwan Barghouti, a leader of the group in April 2002, and in August charged him with multiple counts of murder, conspiracy to murder and membership in a terrorist organization.
Some notable suicide bombings committed by the group were:
On October 16, 2005, the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades claimed responsibility for a shooting attack at the Gush Etzion Junction, killing three Israelis and wounding three others.
On March 24, 2004, a Palestinian teenager named Hussam Abdo was caught in an IDF checkpoint carrying an explosive belt. Following his arrest, an al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade teenagers' militant cell was exposed and arrested in Nablus. On September 23, 2004 a 15-year-old suicide bomber was arrested by Israeli security forces.
The Brigades, like many militia groups, is noted for the use of promotional posters in the main cities of the Palestinian territories. The Brigades have attacked Palestinians as well as Israelis. In November and December, 2003 they killed the brother of Ghassan Shakaa (the mayor of Nablus). In February 2004 Shakaa filed his resignation from office in protest of the Palestinian Authority's lack of action against the armed militias "rampaging" the city. During the first three months of 2004, a number of attacks on journalists in the West Bank and Gaza Strip were blamed on the Brigades as well, including the attack on the Arab television station Al-Arabiya's West Bank offices by masked men who identified themselves as members of the Brigades. Palestinian journalists in Gaza called a general strike on February 9, 2004 to protest this rising violence against journalists.
The Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades have taken prominent part in the July 2004 riots in the Gaza Strip, in which Palestinian officers were kidnapped and PA security headquarters buildings and policemen were attacked by armed gunmen. These riots led the Palestinian cabinet to declare a state of emergency. One media outlet described the situation in the Palestinian Authority as anarchy and chaos.
The firing of Qassam rockets from the Gaza Strip by Hamas and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades into Israel is strongly opposed by those living closest to the firing location due to frequent Israeli military responses to Qassam rocket launches. On July 23, 2004, a 15 year old Arab boy was shot and killed by Palestinian terrorists after he and his family physically opposed their attempt to set up a Qassam rocket launcher outside the family's house. Five other individuals were wounded in the incident.
The European Union's Gaza offices were raided by 15 masked gunmen from al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades on 30 January 2006. They demanded apologies from Denmark and Norway regarding the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons and left 30 minutes later without shots fired or injuries.
On June 9, 2007, in a failed assault on an IDF position at the Kissufim crossing between Gaza and Israel in a possible attempt to kidnap IDF soldiers, 4 armed members of the al-Quds Brigades - the military wing of Islamic Jihad - and the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades - the military wing of Fatah -, used a vehicle marked with "TV" and "PRESS" insignias penetrated the border fence and assaulted a guard tower in what Islamic Jihad and the army said was a failed attempt to capture an Israeli soldier. IDF troops killed one militant, while the others escaped. The use of a vehicle that resembled a press vehicle evoked a sharp response from many journalists and news organizations. Middle East director for Human Rights Watch, Sarah Leah Whitsonn responded by saying,
“Using a vehicle with press markings to carry out a military attack is a serious violation of the laws of war, and it also puts journalists at risk.”The FPA responded by saying,
"Armored vehicles marked with TV are an invaluable protection for genuine journalists working in hostile environments. The FPA has long campaigned for the continued availability of armored vehicles for its members, despite official opposition in some quarters. The abuse of this recognized protection for the working journalist is a grave development and we condemn those that carried it out. Such an incident will reduce the protection offered by marked vehicles."During a press conference, an Islamic Jihad spokesperson Abu Ahmed denied that they had put press markings on the jeep used in the attack and said,
"The Al-Quds Brigades used an armoured jeep resembling military armoured jeeps used by the Zionist intelligence services."However, photos taken by the Associated Press as the attack was under way show the letters “TV” written in red on the front of the jeep.
On the July 14, 2007, Zakaria Zubeidi, considered the local Al-Aqsa leader for Jenin and the northern West Bank and has been wanted for many years for his terrorist activity against Israel, agreed to cease fighting against Israel after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert gave conditional pardon for 178 terrorists in the PA territories. In addition, Palestinian Authority sources say that many of the 178 will be eligible to receive up to 60,000 shekels ($15,000 USD) for turning in their weapons. An M-16 rifle will net them 55,000-60,000 shekels($13,750-$15,000 USD), a Kalachnikov - 15,000 shekels ($3700 USD), and a pistol between 12,000 and 24,000 shekels ($3000-$6000 USD). The PA will reissue weapons to many of the 178 who will join the PA's security forces.