Court remands former Palestinian terror leader charged in recent attacks

Second Intifada-era Fatah commander Zakaria Zubeidi also facing charges for shootings, bombings dating back more than a decade

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Terrorist leader Zakaria Zubeidi arrives for a court hearing at the Ofer military court, May 28, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Terrorist leader Zakaria Zubeidi arrives for a court hearing at the Ofer military court, May 28, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

An Israeli military court on Tuesday extended the remand of a former Palestinian terrorist leader charged with carrying out attacks against Israelis dating back over a decade, including some that had previously been excused under an amnesty deal.

The Samaria Military Court ordered Zakaria Zubeidi be held behind bars until the legal proceeding against him were completed, the army said.

Zubeidi, a 43-year-old former commander for Fatah’s military wing, has been indicted on 24 counts for his role in a number of shooting and bombing attacks starting in 2003.

Zubeidi has been in custody since he was arrested in late February in Ramallah alongside his suspected accomplice, Palestinian attorney Tarek Barghout. Both men were charged in the Samaria Military Court last week.

The Shin Bet Security Service said Zubeidi has confessed to two shooting attacks on buses outside the Beit El settlement in the central West Bank in November 2018 and January 2019 that injured three people in total.

File: Zakaria Zubeidi, then the local commander of Fatah’s military wing, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, and other gunmen march along the streets of the West Bank town of Jenin on April 2, 2005. (Mohammed Ballas/AP Photo)

Zubeidi’s charge sheet includes two counts of intentionally causing death — the military legal system’s equivalent to murder — as well as multiple counts of attempting to intentionally cause death, membership in a terrorist group, weapons sales, firing guns at people and preparing explosives.

The murders and some of the attempted murder charges were related to his role in a bombing attack on the Qalandiya Checkpoint on August 11, 2004, in which two Palestinian men, Ayid Mustafa Abed Raba Daghr and Saleh Rashid Abu Sneina, were killed and several Border Police officers were injured, when a team allegedly sent by Zubeidi detonated an explosive device at the crossing.

The security service said Zubeidi and Barghout also opened fire at an Israeli bus traveling outside the Psagot settlement last December, but failed to hit their target due to inclement weather.

According to the Shin Bet, the two had been planning to carry out another shooting attack on the night they were arrested. An M-16 assault rifle and magazines that the security service said were used in the attacks were found in their possession at the time of the arrest raid.

An M-16 assault rifle that Israel says was used by former terrorist leader Zakaria Zubeidi and Palestinian attorney Tarek Barghout to carry out shooting attacks on Israeli buses in the West Bank, in a photographed released on May 20, 2019. Shin Bet)

During the Second Intifada, which broke out in 2000, Zubeidi served as the commander in the Jenin region of Fatah’s military wing, the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades. He was also suspected of being one of the chief architects of several terror attacks during that time period.

In the charge sheet, Zubeidi is accused of attempting to recruit several Palestinian suicide bombers, as well as directing several attempted and successful bombing and shooting attacks, from 2003 to 2006.

Up until his arrest, Barghout, who has an Israeli ID card and belongs to Israel’s Bar Association but lives in Ramallah, worked on behalf of the Palestinian Authority representing terror suspects in both civilian courts in Israel and military courts in the West Bank.

Both Zubeidi and Barghout worked for the PA’s Prisoner Affairs Ministry.

Zubeidi, who also helped found Jenin’s Freedom Theatre in 2006, evaded capture by Israeli forces for years, until the Israeli government offered him and several other al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades members amnesty in 2007.

Under the agreement with Israel, Zubeidi and the other terrorist operatives who were involved would be granted clemency if they agreed to “give up all violent and illegal activities and abandon the terrorist networks that they’d been a part of,” the Shin Bet said.

But the security service said that Zubeidi’s alleged participation in the shooting attacks outside Beit El was a “blatant and violent violation of these agreements” and thus negates the amnesty agreement, opening him up to prosecution for his terrorist activities during the early 2000s as well.

Zakaria Zubeidi, then the local commander of Fatah’s terrorist wing, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, sits in a car decorated with a poster of former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, in the northern West Bank town of Jenin, December 2, 2004. (AP Photo/Mohammed Ballas)

While he was wanted by Israel for his terrorist activities, Zubeidi began a relationship with an Israeli woman, Tali Fahima, in 2004. Fahima moved into Zubeidi’s Jenin home in order to act as a human shield and prevent Israel from conducting an airstrike to kill him. She was later arrested and convicted of assisting an enemy in wartime.

In 2011, the Israeli government rescinded Zubeidi’s amnesty without public explanation, and was placed on Jerusalem’s wanted list.

Initially, Zubeidi evaded capture by Israeli forces by remaining in PA custody in Ramallah. In 2017, he was released by the PA and permitted to return to Jenin.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report. 

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