Israel’s security forces arrested six Arab Israelis suspected of planning terror attacks against civilians with explosive devices they obtained from the Hezbollah terror group but later lost, the Shin Bet security service announced.
The case had been kept under a gag order since the suspects’ arrests in September, but it was cleared for publication on Thursday as indictments were filed against the men in a Northern District court in Nazareth.
The six suspects have been accused — to varying degrees — of planning to carry out terror attacks in northern Israel and of selling drugs, the Shin Bet said.
A seventh man, Maher Harbawi from the Druze town of Yarka, was also arrested, but is only suspected of selling drugs and not taking part in the cell’s terrorist activities.
The ringleader of the cell was named as Diab Kahmouz, a resident of Ghajar, whose father — an alleged drug dealer — fled to Lebanon in 2006 after being indicted for his aforementioned activities and is believed to have made the connection between his son and Hezbollah, according to the indictment.
Two of Diab’s brothers, Yusuf and Jamil, were also arrested for their involvement in the alleged bombing plot, along with two of his cousins, Muhsen Kahmouz and Mamdouh Ibrahim, and a friend, Adel Aweinat.
Kahmouz was charged with espionage, aiding an enemy during wartime, planning to aid an enemy during wartime, importing and exporting weapons, planning to import weapons, contacting a foreign agent and drug dealing.
The other members of the cell were charged with similar crimes, depending on their level of involvement.
Yusuf and Jamil Kahmouz were also charged with obstruction of justice, as they destroyed two computers used to communicate with Hezbollah after Diab was arrested.
According to investigators, Diab Kahmouz made contact with Hezbollah operatives through his father in late 2015. The terror group instructed him to carry out an attack in Haifa, though he decided instead to bomb a bus stop at a junction near the northern Arab city of Tur’an, where soldiers tend to gather on Sunday mornings en route to their army bases.
The cell planned to carry out the attack with explosive devices that had been smuggled across the border in May, but were unable to locate the bag holding the bombs after Diab hid it in a grove near Metulla in northern Israel. On July 30, an Israeli farmer found the explosives in a field and handed them over to police, who determined that the bombs had been manufactured in Lebanon, a police spokesperson said Thursday.
Diab Kahmouz was arrested on September 4, along with Aweinat and Muhsen Kahmouz. Ibrahim was arrested on September 12, and Diab’s brothers, Yusuf and Jamil, were picked up on September 18 and September 20, respectively.
Jamil Kahmouz served as Diab’s “main assistant,” according to the Shin Bet. He is suspected of helping his brother pass along intelligence to Hezbollah — pictures and video from the bus stop where they planned to carry out the attack — and drove their car to a spot near the border where they received the explosives in May.
After Diab was arrested, Jamil is also suspected of having set on fire two computers used to communicate with Hezbollah, “for fear that they would be confiscated by security forces,” the Shin Bet said.
According to the Shin Bet, Yusuf Kahmouz was also fully aware of his brother’s plans, helping him stake out the bus stop where they planned to carry out the attack. Yusuf is also believed to have traveled with his brother to the drop-off point outside Ghajar to help exchange encrypted files with Hezbollah and pick up the explosives.
He is also believed to have helped Jamil burn the two computers.
Muhsen Kahmouz allegedly helped Diab communicate with Hezbollah, sending the group encrypted emails, and is also believed to have looked for the bag with the explosives, though he was unaware of the bag’s true contents and believed it contained drugs, according to the indictment. He was also charged with being involved in the group’s drug dealing.
Ibrahim was also involved in communications with Hezbollah and selling drugs with the cell, according to the Shin Bet.
Aweinat refused Diab’s offer to take part in the terror attack, but was aware of it and is suspected of taking part in Diab’s drug smuggling business, according to the indictment. He is also believed to have given Hezbollah operatives a pair of night vision goggles in 2007, the Shin Bet said.
In August, Israel’s security services broke up two terror cells that had been created by Hezbollah, arresting nine suspected members over the course of several months, officials said.
Hezbollah operatives from the group’s Unit 133 — its foreign operations unit — working out of Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, recruited members in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and within Israel through social media sites, notably Facebook, the Shin Bet security service said at the time.
The terror cells had planned to carry out suicide bombings and ambush IDF patrols in the West Bank. They received funding from Hezbollah, and some members had begun preparing explosive devices for use in attacks, the Shin Bet said.
“The Hezbollah organization has recently made it a priority to try to spark terror acts, doing so from far away, while attempting not to make its involvement clear,” the Shin Bet said in a statement in August.