The Haifa District Court on Thursday sentenced an Arab Israeli citizen, Muhammad Bin Ahmad Azam, 24, to 28 months in prison for attempting to join the Islamic State jihadist group.
Azam, from the Galilee town of Kafr Manda, confessed to two charges: contact with a foreign agent and attempted membership in a terror organization.
According to the indictment, which is based on a joint Shin Bet and Israel Police investigation, Azam began reading about Islamic State beginning in 2015, and soon “developed an ideological identification with the group’s actions, its values and goals, expressed public support for the organization, and at a certain point, as will be described below, tried to join it.”
In late 2016, he decided to join the organization’s ranks as an active fighter, with a special interest in fighting against Israel and conquering Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount.
In 2017, the indictment says, he traveled to the Sinai Peninsula in a bid to joint the group’s “Sinai Province” branch.
“Considering the nature of the crimes, and the significant threat to national security represented by Israeli citizens and residents joining foreign terror organizations, I believe there is a need to deter others from committing crimes of this type, and I see a real chance that a more severe sentence for the defendant will realize that deterrence,” Judge Avraham Elyakim, the court’s deputy chief judge, wrote in the sentence.
Comparatively few Israelis have joined the terrorist group, yet the Shin Bet has said it views the possibility of Israeli citizens joining IS as a “serious security threat.”
A few dozen Israeli Arabs from northern Israel have been arrested for alleged links with IS in recent years. Roughly 20 are now believed to be among its ranks in Syria and Iraq.
Last month, the Nazareth District Court sentenced a Jewish convert to Islam to 38 months in prison for seeking to join IS in Syria. Valentin Mazlevski, 40, a Belarusian immigrant who moved to Israel in 1996, was the first Jewish-born Israeli to be charged for having IS ties, according to the Shin Bet.
Also in February, the Shin Bet arrested two Arab Israelis for allegedly planning to carry out shooting attacks at the Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem’s Old City or against Jewish or Christian prayer sites. The two suspects were also charged with failing to report having knowledge of another group of Arab Israeli men who were also planning to carrying out a shooting attack on the Temple Mount in September, similar to one conducted in July that killed two Israel Police officers.
That cell was arrested in September before it could carry out its Temple Mount attack.
The two suspects “support the murderous ideology of the Islamic State terrorist organization and sought to perpetrate attacks in the context of this support,” the Shin Bet said in a statement.