Video: Terrorist training camp operates in Lebanon

By Richard Engel Chief foreign correspondent
NBC News
updated 12/5/2006 7:43:27 PM ET 2006-12-06T00:43:27

We drove into Ain al-Helwe refugee camp slowly and carefully. Getting lost here can cost you your life. The Palestinian camp is one of the world's biggest al-Qaida breeding grounds, just 20 miles from the Israeli border.

Foreigners are normally not allowed here, but we've received special permission from the Lebanese Army.

We met our contact, Munir Maqdah, who was surrounded by bodyguards. Israel has tried to kill him several times. Maqdah has trained militants to fight Israel — shooting at their feet to sharpen reflexes. Some were just children.

Now Maqdah claims to help smuggle fighters into Iraq.

"Some go to avenge American support for Israel," he says, "others because they see massacres in Iraq on television."

He showed me why the camp is such fertile ground for extremists and why gunmen are on every corner. There are 80,000 refugees in a single square mile.

The Lebanese government won't let them work. Israel won't let them return to their homeland. The result: an entire city out of the Lebanese government's control.

The local heroes here are suicide bombers. On Sept. 11, 2001, the camp celebrated the attacks on the U.S. Militant leaders here claim to have sent at least 50 suicide bombers to Iraq, among the most from any single location in the world.

At first glance, Assif Jabr looks like any father walking his children home from school, but he carries an assault rifle. The 36-year-old unemployed security guard dotes on his four children and wife, Gardinya, but his dream is to leave them, and die fighting in Iraq.

"America has come to fight us in the Middle East," he told us. "It is a matter of dignity to be a martyr and fight back."

Jabr is also motivated by revenge. Israeli air strikes killed his three brothers and parents. Five years into the U.S. war on terror, Jabr says there's a growing number of people like him here — humiliated, angry at the West, militant. Now Jabr's cleaning his gun, ready to join their ranks in Iraq.

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