Paper: Hamas Founder's Son Spied For Israel

Israel's Ha'aretz newspaper reported that the son of a founder of the militant group Hamas was a longtime informant for the Israeli security agency, the Shin Beth. The late Sheikh Ahmed Yassin's son, converted to Christianity, moved to California and has written a book about his work for Israel. Avi Issacharoff, the reporter who broke the story, offers his insight.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

The son of a founder of the militant Islamist group Hamas, in the West Bank, was a longtime informant for the Israeli security agency, the Shin Beth. The son of Sheikh Hassan Yousef converted to Christianity, moved to California and has written a book about his work as an undercover agent for Israel. The Israeli paper Haaretz has a magazine article about this this week. It's by Avi Issacharoff and he joins us from Israel.

Welcome to the program.

Mr. AVI ISSACHAROFF (Journalist, Haaretz): Thank you.

SIEGEL: And tell us about Mosab Hassan Yousef and how he became an informant for the Shin Beth, for the Israeli security force, after he was interrogated by the Israelis.

Mr. ISSACHAROFF: Interrogated and tortured actually by the Israelis. But then when he was in prison for 16 months, he witnessed torturing that Hamas's prisoners did to other Palestinian prisoners inside jail. And I think that affected his decision not to work with Hamas anymore.

Outside of prison, when he was released, actually his intelligence officer was very nice to him. And Mosab was surprised from this behavior and got more and more curious, and then Mosab found himself slowly, slowly becoming a real agent.

SIEGEL: And what did Israel gain from him? What's an example of something that they knew or did because of the informing of Mosab Hassan Yousef?

Mr. ISSACHAROFF: One day around 2002, he was in his house and he heard a knock at the door. He opened the door and saw two men. Those two men told him that they are looking for Sheikh Hassan Yousef because their connection men was lost and they didn't know who to approach to, and they heard about this sheikh so they came to his house.

They told Mosab the story that there are five young people that are coming from Jordan in order to do suicide attack. So what Mosab did is actually told them, look, I'm going to take care of you. He took the five of them, gave them enough money in order to stay in one of the places in Ramallah, and of course then called the Shin Beth and asked them to arrest those five people.

SIEGEL: And that story somehow didn't make it back to Jordan, that this was not a good guy to stop and ask for help from.

Mr. ISSACHAROFF: Actually, it did. It did. And that draw up to a huge operation in which that was kind of a very clever move from Mosab and some of his operators.

First of all, what they did is that to release one of the five. One was shot during the arrest attempt and he got killed, so we had four left. One of the four they released to Jordan back. The rest of the three thought that the fourth one was actually the one that gave the information about them. Now this was stage A.

Stage B, in order to clean his name, they planned a kind of a huge military operation in Ramallah. And the purpose of this operation - for the army, the definition was to arrest Mosab Yousef. And they sent some special forces troops, undercover units, choppers, tanks, armed vehicles, everything in order to catch Mosab Yousef. And they even shot at the house a missile. They shot at the house from their machine guns and everything.

And all this time, of course, Mosab Yousef was in a complete other place, sitting safely in his safe house in Ramallah. And while he's watching this on TV, of course, the people are hearing the voices that the army is calling to Mosab Yousef to get out of the house with his hands on his head. And that, of course, created a kind of a very big wanted terrorist image to Mosab Yousef.

SIEGEL: Since Haaretz published this article, or the beginnings of it, has Hamas said anything? Have they commented on Mosab Hassan Yousef?

Mr. ISSACHAROFF: Well, Hamas and the father, Sheikh Hassan Yousef, both of them denied the report and then said that this is part of the Zionist propaganda against the Palestinian people.

SIEGEL: Now, when you met Mosab Hassan Yousef, the news was at that time, a couple of years ago, he had converted to Christianity. Is this his motivation? Is he now a very religious Christian?

Mr. ISSACHAROFF: He's a very religious Christian, actually. And you can describe it as a kind of a personal crusade. He's gone against Islam, against the Hamas, against Allah, against the Quran, against everything that he was taught and trained to, and everything that he believed in once when he was a young man or a young kid.

This is not a kind of a political issue for him between the Israelis and Palestinians. This is a matter of civilizations or religions between Islam and the rest of the world.

SIEGEL: Avi Issacharoff of the newspaper Haaretz in Israel, who has written about Mosab Hassan Yousef, son of a founder of Hamas, who has written a book admitting that he was an informant for Israel.

Thanks a lot for talking with us.

Mr. ISSACHAROFF: You're welcome.

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