The Shin Bet uncovered a large Hamas terror cell, among whose members were Israeli citizens, which planned to carry out suicide bombings and other terror attacks in Israel, the security service revealed on Wednesday.
The Shin Bet, alongside the IDF and Israel Police, have thus far arrested 25 Hamas operatives, the majority of them Al-Quds University in Abu Dis students, who they suspect were preparing to attack Israeli targets, the agency said in a statement. The arrests were carried out over the past few weeks.
The service also uncovered a makeshift laboratory in Abu Dis, in east Jerusalem, which was being used to create the explosives necessary for bombing attacks. It said the cell was controlled by Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip.
“This case reveals and highlights again the involvement of the military arm of Hamas from the Gaza Strip, which operates continuously with the intent of carrying out mass-casualty attacks within Israel and the West Bank,” the Shin Bet said.
The Palestinian Authority recently warned of such a threat by Hamas against Israel, an official from within the PA told The Times of Israel last week.
The PA’s warning was based on information gleaned from interrogations of Hamas operatives arrested by PA security services, which showed that the terror group’s leaders in Gaza and abroad have sent orders to local commanders to escalate their activities — from encouraging protests and stabbing attacks to more dramatic and deadly assaults on Israeli civilians.
The ringleader of this terror plot uncovered by the Shin Bet was 24-year-old Ahmad Jamal Mousa Azzam from Qalqilya in the West Bank.
Azzam was recruited by Hamas operatives from the Gaza Strip in order to set up a terror cell in the West Bank. The 24-year-old remained in constant contact with his controllers in the Strip, the Shin Bet said.
Hamas taught Azzam, a student from Al-Quds University in Abu Dis with campuses in east Jerusalem and al-Birah, how to create explosive belts and vests, as well as improvised explosive devises which could be used against both civilians and security forces.
Once he became a member of Hamas, Azzam recruited other students from his university who assisted him in every aspect of the plot, from renting apartments to use as laboratories to purchasing the chemicals and materials necessary to create the explosives, as well as volunteering to act as suicide bombers in the planned attacks, according to the Shin Bet.
Two of the people Azzam recruited were Israeli citizens who would be able to move more freely within Israel than West Bank Palestinians.
Hazem Ziad Amran Sandouqa, a 22-year-old resident of Jerusalem’s Old City, purchased some of the materials necessary to create the explosives and also provided intelligence on potential Israeli targets.
Fahdi Daoud Muhammad Abu Qaian, a 19-year-old Bedouin Israeli from the Negev, agreed to actually carry out an attack, the Shin Bet said.
During Abu Qaian’s interrogation he revealed to officers that he had accepted Azzam’s request in October to either carry out a suicide bombing with an explosive vest or drive a car packed with explosives into some Israeli target.
The two Israeli citizens also confessed to the Shin Bet that they support the Islamic State and other Salafi terrorist groups.
In addition to those directly involved in carrying out the attacks, the Shin Bet also found others who assisted Azzam in purchasing the materials necessary. Some of the chemicals and equipment found in the laboratory were purchased within Israel, the service found, while others were purchased in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
“In our checks of the materials and equipment that were seized in that location, it became clear that this was a laboratory that was prepared to create meaningful quantities of different kinds of explosive materials,” the security service said.
In addition to the Abu Dis terror cell, the Shin Bet also busted a Bethlehem-based group that was also associated with Azzam. Some of its members also came from Al-Quds University in Abu Dis, and were recruited in order to serve as suicide bombers, the agency said.
Issa Nasser Issa Shoka, a 19-year-old student at Al-Quds University in Abu Dis, agreed to carry out a suicide bombing and also to help Azzam transfer money between the West Bank and Gaza.
Shoka acted as one of the leaders of the Bethlehem cell, recruiting Muhammad Waleed Ahmad Sarhkhan, 20, as well as Muhammad Na’im Issa Ali, 19, to carry out a suicide bombing and other attacks, the Shin Bet said.
“The planned wave of terror attacks proves that Hamas, led by its military wing, has removed itself from the terrible distress of the population of the [Gaza] Strip,” the agency added.
Avi Issacharoff contributed to this report.