Two residents of the Arab Israeli town of Umm al-Fahm were charged on Thursday with planning to carry out a shooting attack on the Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem, similar to the one that took place in July.
The two suspects, 26-year-old Sa’id Ghasoub Mahmoud Jabarin and a 16-year-old, who cannot be identified due to his age, are also believed to have supported the Islamic State terrorist organization.
A third Umm al-Fahm man, 24-year-old Firas Salah Mahmoud Mahajna, was also arrested for allegedly supporting the terrorist group and illegally possessing a gun. However, the Shin Bet security service said that he was “entirely” unconnected to the planned terror attack.
The three suspects were arrested on September 6, but information about the case was kept under a gag order until their indictment in a Haifa District Court on Thursday morning.
According to a senior Shin Bet official, Jabarin and the minor started planning their shooting attack in the small market just outside the Temple Mount complex, shortly after the July 14 shooting at the site. In that terror attack, three Arab Israeli gunmen, all of whom were named Muhammad Jabarin from Umm al-Fahm, shot dead two Israel Police officers, Haiel Sitawe, 30, and Kamil Shnaan, 22, who were stationed at one of the entrances to the Temple Mount. Other police officers on the scene shot back at the terrorists, killing them.
There was no indication that Jabarin was related to the three terrorists who committed the July 14 Temple Mount attack, despite them sharing the same last name and hometown. (Jabarin is a common surname in Umm al-Fahm.)
The Shin Bet did not say when specifically Jabarin and his underaged accomplice intended to carry out their plot.
“The attack was prevented thanks to accurate intelligence information attained by the Shin Bet that allowed for the arrest of the members of the cell before they could succeed in carrying out this heinous attack,” the official said.
According to the indictment, during a visit to the Temple Mount, the 16-year-old chose the small market connected to the complex as the target. The minor told Jabarin that the market was their best target as it has a constant presence of Israeli security personnel — their intended victims — and because there is easy access to it.
Jabarin was already in possession of the two handguns they planned to use in the attack. He promised to teach the minor how to fire the guns and to provide him with one before the attack. One was purchased in 2014, the second in 2016. Both were recovered by the Shin Bet.
However, Jabarin was apparently not in possession of sufficient ammunition for the guns. On August 5, he contacted a local arms dealer to purchase bullets from him, according to the charge sheet. But the man said he did not have right caliber, and the deal did not go through.
According to the indictment, over the past few years, Jabarin and the minor independently began supporting the Islamic State group and its activities, regularly visiting websites and social media pages associated with it. The 16-year-old was also in direct contact through Facebook with an alleged member of the terrorist organization.
In January, Jabarin was questioned by the Shin Bet over his support for the Islamic State group, which Israel officially designated as a terrorist organization in 2014. During his interrogation, he said he would stop supporting the group, even signing an agreement to that effect, according to the indictment.
Yet beginning in May, Jabarin and the minor started meeting with one another and discussing the possibility of traveling to Syria in order to join the terrorist group’s ranks there.
When that proved difficult, they instead conspired to carry out a terror attack on the Temple Mount “in which the defendants would murder security personnel and non-Muslim civilians, and be killed in order to become ‘martyrs,'” according to the indictment.
Jabarin and the minor were both charged with the crime of planning to assist an enemy during wartime. The 16-year-old was also accused of making contact with a foreign agent, while Jabarin was charged with attempting to illegally purchasing weaponry, possessing weaponry and using weapons for the purpose of a terror attack.
Mahajna was arrested along with Jabarin and the minor, but he was not connected to the terror attack. He was found in possession of a makeshift Carlo-style submachine gun, the Shin Bet said.
According to the security service, he is expected to be indicted on Sunday.
The arrest of Jabarin, Mahajna and the minor led the Shin Bet to a number of other residents of Umm al-Fahm and the surrounding area who are suspected of being involved in arms trafficking, the security service said.
In its statement on the case, the Shin Bet reiterated its concern that as Islamic State loses ground on the battlefield in Syria and Iraq, it will start looking more to carrying out attacks abroad.
Comparatively few Muslim Israelis have joined the terrorist organization — Israeli security forces estimate the number to be in the dozens — yet the Shin Bet said it sees the notion of Israeli citizens joining Islamic State as a “serious security threat.”