While the group initially vowed to target only Israeli soldiers and settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, in early 2002 it began a spree of terrorist attacks against civilians in Israeli cities. In March 2002, after a deadly al-Aqsa Brigades suicide bombing in Jerusalem, the State Department added the group to the U.S. list of foreign terrorist organizations.
The group was neither officially recognised nor openly backed by Arafat and Fatah, though brigade members tend also to be members of Fatah, the Palestinian leader's political faction, and Israel charges that neither Fatah nor the Palestinian Aurthority have made any attempt to prevent their attacks.
Furthermore, Israel published documents found in Arafat's compound, claiming that they prove Arafat knowingly sponsored Al-Aqsa terrorist attacks; these documents led in part to US president George W. Bush's decision to call for the replacement of Arafat. On December 18, 2003, Fatah decided to ask the leaders of the Al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigades to join the Fatah Council, recognizing it officially as part of the organization.
The group's relationship with Arafat is subject to conflicting information from leaders within the group. Maslama Thabet, one of the groupís leaders in the West Bank town of Tulkarm, told USA Today in March 2002. We receive our instructions from Fatah. Our commander is Yasir Arafat himself. While another leader Naser Badawi, told the New York Times days later that while we respect our leader, the decision to carry out attacks remains with the Aqsa Brigades leadership. Badawi added that Arafat has never approached the group to ask it to stop its suicide bombings, which Arafat has publicly condemned.
Israel arrested Marwan Barghouti, the leader of the group in April 2002, and in August charged him with numerous accounts of manslaughter, conspiracy to manslaughter and membership in a terrorist organization. In addition to his "shadow job" at the with the group, Barghouti had also served as the general secretary of Fatah in the West Bank.
Al-Asqa, like many Palestinian militia groups, is noted for the use of promotional posters in the main cities of Palestine. These are done in a style very similar to modern hip hop album covers (especially as made by the labels No Limit Records and Cash Money Records).
The Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades terrorize Palestinians as well as Israelis. They kill people who oppose Yasser Arafat's policies and shoot on houses of Palestinian politicians whose views differ from theirs. Al-Aqsa is involved in many lynchings and street-executions of suspected collaberators and opposers to Arafat. In November and December, 2003 they murdered the brother of Bassam Shaqawa (the mayor of Nablus) and have tried to assasinate him serveral times.