Arab Israeli jailed for 11 years for plot to assassinate Netanyahu, J’lem mayor

Muhammad Jamal Rashdeh, 31, also targeted US consulate, Canadian security officials; in separate case, court approves 18-year sentence for Palestinian in Jerusalem murder

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) with then-Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat in Jerusalem, on May 28, 2014. (Emil Salman/POOL/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) with then-Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat in Jerusalem, on May 28, 2014. (Emil Salman/POOL/Flash90)

An East Jerusalem man suspected of planning to assassinate Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat last year on orders from a Syria-based terrorist group was sentenced Thursday to 11 years in prison.

Muhammad Jamal Rashdeh, a 31-year-old Arab Israeli, was arrested on April 24 and charged on May 27 with terror offenses. In a plea deal, he was convicted of conspiracy to aid the enemy in wartime, preparing to carry out deadly terror attacks, spying, and conspiracy to commit murder.

Two other suspects have also been arrested and charged in connection with the case, the Shin Bet said at the time. The security service has refused to identify the two suspected accomplices.

“Working on orders from terrorist operatives abroad, Muhammad planned to carry out a number of significant terror attacks against a variety of targets,” the security service said.

The targets included Netanyahu and Barkat, as well as buildings belonging to the US consulate in Jerusalem (which has since been converted into an embassy) and a delegation of Canadian security officials who were in Jerusalem to train Palestinian Authority security forces in the West Bank, the Shin Bet said.

In June, the Israel Police released footage of Rashdeh’s arrest in the Shuafat refugee camp in East Jerusalem, where he lived.

A Shin Bet spokesperson said Rashdeh received his orders from members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command (PFLP-GC), a Syria-based terrorist group that fights alongside Syrian dictator Bashar Assad.

In order to carry out the attacks, Rashdeh and his accomplices planned to bring in an additional terrorist operative from Jordan, the Shin Bet said.

According to the security service, Rashdeh had already begun collecting intelligence about his targets.

The PFLP-GC — not to be confused with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which it split off from in 1968 — was responsible for a number of vicious terror attacks in Israel in the 1970s and 1980s, including one against a schoolbus in northern Israel that killed nine children and three adults.

The PFLP-GC largely went underground in the late 1980s, working behind the scenes with the Lebanon-based Hezbollah terror group, but it reemerged in 2011 with the outbreak of the Syrian civil war.

In a separate case, the Jerusalem district court on Thursday sentenced a Palestinian man to 18 years in prison for stabbing a British student to death.

The court accepted a plea bargain signed last week in sentencing Jamil Tamimi. He killed 21-year-old British student Hannah Bladon on the Jerusalem light rail in April 2017, stabbing her multiple times before an off-duty policeman pulled the emergency brake and subdued him. Tamimi was 57 years old at the time.

Jamil Tamimi, the Palestinian man who murdered British student Hannah Bladon on April 14, 2017 in Jerusalem, is brought for a court hearing at the Jerusalem District Court, on December 31, 2018 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Tamimi’s defense team claimed he suffered from a mental illness, and the attack was not ideologically or politically motivated.

Bladon was an exchange student at Hebrew University from the University of Birmingham.

Hannah Bladon, an English student who was stabbed to death by a Palestinian man in Jerusalem on April 14, 2017 (UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

Maurice Hirsch, her family’s representative, said he was disappointed her killer would not be serving a life sentence for his crime. But he added that “no sentence would have been able to return Hannah.”

As part of the plea bargain, Tamimi will not serve a life sentence, and has admitted to his guilt while being exempted from paying Bladon’s family financial compensation.

Prosecuting attorney Sagiv Ozeri told the Kan public broadcaster last week that Bladon was not killed in a terror attack and that medical experts said her attacker was mentally ill.

“This is a shocking murder, without any nationalist element, carried out by a mentally ill person,” Ozeri said.

According to the indictment, Tamimi, who has a history of mental problems and had previously attempted suicide, had decided to carry out the April 14, 2017, stabbing attack after he called his sons that day and sought to visit them at the family’s home, but was rebuffed and told that the family wanted no contact with him, in part because he had been convicted of sexually abusing his daughter.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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