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'We had no choice'
By YAAKOV KATZ
04/06/2010
'Mavi Marmara' raid commando: "They had murder in their eyes."
 
When St.-Sgt. S. fast-roped down from an air force Black Hawk helicopter onto the Mavi Marmara Turkish passenger ship on Monday morning, he did not expect to be landing in what he called “a battlefield” and facing off against a group of “murderous mercenaries.”

The 15th and last naval commando from Flotilla 13 (the Shayetet) to rappel down onto the ship from the helicopter, S. said on Thursday that he was immediately attacked by what the IDF has called “the mob of mercenaries” aboard the vessel, just like the soldiers who had boarded just before him.

Looking to his side, he saw three of his commanders lying wounded – one with a gunshot wound to the stomach and another with a gunshot wound to the knee. A third was lying unconscious; his skull was fractured by a devastating blow with a metal bar.

As the next in the chain of command, S., who has been in the Shayetet for three and a half years, immediately took charge.

He pushed the wounded soldiers up against the wall of the upper deck and created a perimeter of soldiers around them to begin treating their wounds, he said. He then arranged his men to form a second perimeter, and pulled out his 9 mm. Glock pistol to stave off the charging attackers and to protect his wounded comrades.

The attackers had already seized two pistols from the commandos, and fired repeatedly at them. Facing more than a dozen of the mercenaries, and convinced their lives were in danger, he and his colleagues opened fire, he said. S. singlehandedly killed six men. His colleagues killed another three.

On Thursday, S. sat down with The Jerusalem Post at the Shayetet’s base in northern Israel for an exclusive interview, during which he described the dramatic events aboard the Mavi Marmara on Monday; he is being considered for a medal of valor.

“When I hit the deck, I was immediately attacked by people with bats, metal pipes and axes,” S. told the Post. “These were without a doubt terrorists. I could see the murderous rage in their eyes and that they were coming to kill us.”

S. does not look like a hero. Well-built, like all commandos in the Shayetet, he is also soft-spoken and stingy with words, but his commander Lt.-Col. T. fills in the blanks.

“S. did a remarkable job,” T. said. “He stabilized the situation and succeeded in hitting six of the terrorists.”

Based on preliminary results of its investigation into the navy’s takeover of the Mavi Marmara, which ended with nine dead passengers and more than 30 wounded, the IDF said on Thursday that the commandos were attacked by a well-trained group of mercenaries, most of whom were found without IDs but with thousands of dollars in their pockets.

The group was well trained and was split into a number of squads of about 20 mercenaries each distributed throughout the upper deck, the IDF said. All of the mercenaries wore gas masks and ceramic bulletproof vests and were armed with either bats, slingshots, metal bars, knives or stun grenades.

The IDF’s understanding is that the mercenaries mainly chose dual-purpose items of this sort rather than guns, since opening fire would have made it blatantly clear that they were terrorists and not so-called peace activists.

Nevertheless, the IDF suspects that the group did have some guns of its own. Israeli forensic experts who examined the ship found casings belonging to a weapon that was not used by the commandos, and the Turkish captain of the ship later told the IDF that the “mercenaries” threw their weapons overboard after the commandos took control of the vessel.

T. said he realized the group they were facing was well-trained and likely ex-military after the commandos threw a number of stun grenades and fired warning shots before rappelling down onto the deck. “They didn’t even flinch,” he said. “Regular people would move.”

Each squad of the “mercenaries” was equipped with a Motorola communication device, the IDF said, so they could pass information to one another. Assessments in the defense establishment are that members of the group were affiliated with international global jihad elements and had undergone training in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan.

S. on Thursday downplayed his involvement in the operation. “I did what I was trained to do and now I move on,” he said.

In contrast to earlier reports, the commandos said that they began using their weapons within a minute and a half after boarding the ship, due to the extreme violence they faced. One of the reasons S. pulled out his gun right after landing on the ship was because one of the mercenaries was pointing a pistol, snatched from one of the commandos, at another commando’s head.
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