Israel Arrests Islamic State Cell Members Plotting Bomb Attacks in Tel Aviv
A group of Palestinians operating out of East Jerusalem’s Shuafat refugee camp are suspected of attempting to join Islamic State and carry out a series of attacks across Israel for the terror group, Israeli officials said Sunday.
Shin Bet security service agents, along with police officers, uncovered and broke up the Islamic State cell over a month ago, officials said as charges were filed against six suspects.
According to the charges, four of the six men planned to carry out attacks across the country, but “with an emphasis on Jerusalem.”
The attacks planned included bombings, kidnappings, shootings and stabbings, according to the indictment.
Four of the men also allegedly attempted to join the Islamic State fighting in the Sinai and in Syria, but failed to do so for a variety of reasons.
The suspects, all residents of the Shuafat refugee camp, were arrested in mid-August, but details of the case were kept quiet under a court-issued gag order, police said.
That gag order was lifted Sunday when an indictment was filed against the suspects in the Jerusalem District Court.
According to the indictment, beginning in 2015, the spiritual head of the terror cell, Ahmad Shwiki, recruited and indoctrinated four of the other members: Muhammad Handiyeh, 27; Amer Albaya’a, 32; Muhammad Hammid, 32; Saad Armin, 23.
“The cell was divided into two levels, with the head of the cell (Shwiki) representing the religious authority who brought together the rest of the members,” police said.
Shwiki gave them weekly lessons on Islamic State religious ideology and encouraged them to “cut their hair and grow their beards, as is the custom of Islamic State members, and to fold up the sides of their trousers, as is the custom of IS members,” according to the indictment.
(Some Muslims, including adherents to IS ideology, follow an interpretation of Muslim law that says men cannot wear pants below their ankles, as the Prophet Muhammad was believed not to.)
Shwiki, 29, taught the other members of the group that they “had to fight the infidels, the Jews, the crusaders and also the Arabs who did not follow the Islamic State — and to destroy them,” according to the indictment.
The sixth man arrested from the cell, Yusuf al-Sheikh Amr, 28, did not attend Shwiki’s lectures but began identifying with Islamic State after seeing the group’s videos on the internet, according to the indictment.
In March and April, Albaya’a and Hammid tried to join IS in Sinai, but failed to find a way to cross into Egypt. Undeterred, they traveled to Jordan to get new passports and then briefly returned to Israel before flying to Istanbul on June 1 in order to ultimately reach IS fighters in Syria.
From Istanbul they traveled to Gaziantep, Turkey, on the border with Syria. There they were stopped by Turkish police and sent to Jordan. They returned to Israel on June 10, according to the indictment.
After their failed bid to join the Islamic State in Syria, Albaya’a and Hammid began planning attacks in Israel. The two began saving money to purchase weapons and started learning how to manufacture explosives. Albaya’a, who worked in construction, also contemplated selling his Bobcat skidloader in order to finance their terrorist activities, according to the indictment.
According to the charges filed against them, Albaya’a and Hammid intended to carry out a shooting attack in Tel Aviv on January 1 and bombings in the government complexes in both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Hammid apparently wanted to carry out the Jerusalem bombing in the city’s Teddy Stadium, but Albaya’a convinced him that the government complex was a better choice.
When Albaya’a and Hammid returned to Israel, they were contacted by Amr, who also identified with the IS ideology and wanted to learn how he could get to Syria in order to join the fighting there.
Amr worked at the same construction site as Armin, who attended Shwiki’s lectures and identified with IS beliefs, according to the district attorney.
Though the two ultimately wanted to fight in Syria, they were told by Albaya’a that it would be better for them to keep a low profile. Instead, the two men planned to carry out terror attacks against Israelis, according to investigators.
Amr and Armin then “started looking for instructional videos on the internet about how to manufacture explosives,” the indictment said.
Armin tried to get potassium, a chemical used in the manufacturing of some explosives, but failed when the friend he sought to purchase it from said he did not have any and to “not ask him for it,” according to investigators.
Instead, Amr and Armin intended to carry out a kidnapping sometime in August, using some old Israeli army uniforms they found at a construction site in Rishon Lezion.
By that point, Albaya’a had already been arrested by Israeli security forces, and the two hoped to kidnap an Israeli citizen and bargain for Albaya’a’s release, the indictment said.
Shwiki and Handiyeh were not directly involved in any of the plans for the terror attacks. Handiyeh did, however, express interest in getting involved with Amr and Amrin’s plot, but was apparently told not to get involved by Shwiki, according to the indictment.
On Sunday, Shwiki and Handiyeh were charged with joining and supporting a terrorist group, joining an illegal group and being present during a meeting of an illegal group.
Armin was charged with the same crimes, as well as with attempting to assist an enemy in wartime.
Albaya’a and Hammdi were charged with the same crimes, along with attempting to assist an enemy in wartime and attempting to leave the country illegally.
Amr was charged with belonging to an illegal group, joining and supporting a terrorist group, and attempting to assist an enemy in wartime.
“The cooperation between the police and the Shin Bet brought about the uncovering of an IS cell and foiling terror attacks that would have led to the injury of innocents,” the police said in a statement.
Last month, five Arab men from northern Israel were sentenced to multiple-year jail terms for joining the Islamic State and planning to carry out attacks in Israel in the terror group’s name.
Karim abu Salah, 22, was sentenced to six years; his brother Sharif, 30, to three; Husam Marisat, 31, to four and a half; Fadi Bashir, 30, to three; and Muhammad abu Salah, 29 to two and a half.
The men had all confessed under a plea bargain arrangement, according to court documents.
Original article courtesy of TOI