Beaten and disgraced, Arafat's ex-bodyguard wins an apology

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 October, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 14 October, 2005, 12:00am

He was, for years, always there, poised alertly just behind Yasser Arafat's shoulder, the picture of a dedicated bodyguard prepared to take the bullet to spare the man he was protecting.

All national leaders have bodyguards, but Arafat's seemed to have no replacement, no life of his own beyond protecting the rais, the leader. Wherever Arafat went, there was he.

Then, suddenly, about three years ago, Muhammed al-Daya was no longer in the picture. Had he been promoted? Bumped?

The rumour circulated that he had been fired because of a suspicious relationship with Israelis. He had been seen making frequent visits to Tel Aviv.

The rumour led to his transfer from his headquarters in Ramallah on the West Bank to the Gaza Strip, where he was interrogated by Palestinian military intelligence headed by General Mussa Arafat, a relative of the Palestinian leader.

According to these reports, suspicion had focused on Mr Daya after Israeli commandos intercepted in the Red Sea the Karin A, a vessel carrying weapons from Iran to the Palestinian Authority, a highly secret voyage.

Two years ago, Mr Daya returned from Gaza to Ramallah and shortly thereafter was kidnapped by masked men and severely beaten.

After Yasser Arafat's death last year, the Palestinian security forces arrested a resident of Ramallah, Sa'adeh al-Ajouri, who reportedly confessed to taking part in the attack on Mr Daya.

Ajouri told interrogators that two of Yasser Arafat's former aides, one of them the former director of Arafat's bureau, Fayez Hammad, had paid him to carry out the beating. This week, Ajouri and Hammad publicly apologised to Mr Daya and said their object was to distance him from Yasser Arafat.

'I wish to express deep regret for the lies about Days and I apologise to him and his family,' Mr Hammad said. 'The plot was the work of another official who wanted to destroy his reputation and remove him from his work.'

After the rumours that he was an Israeli spy became public, Mr Daya wrote a letter to the Arab Times, published in the US city of Houston. He said: 'I am Muhammed al-Daya, the son of Yasser Arafat [a figurative flourish] and his bodyguard until my death, until the last minute of my life.'