Former terror leader charged with carrying out fresh shooting attacks
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Former terror leader charged with carrying out fresh shooting attacks

Zakaria Zubeidi, a Fatah commander in the Second Intifada, also to be indicted over attacks from over a decade ago that were previously covered under an amnesty deal, Shin Bet says

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

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)
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)

Israel has accused former Palestinian terrorist leader Zakaria Zubeidi of committing several fresh shooting attacks on Israeli buses in recent months, and also indicted him for attacks dating back over a decade that had previously been excused under an amnesty deal, including two murder charges.

Zubeidi was arrested on February 27 in Ramallah, along with Palestinian attorney Tarek Barghout, who often represents terror suspects.

They were charged in a military court on Sunday, but that fact was barred from publication for a day by the military censor.

Zubeidi was indicted on 24 separate counts, the earliest of them from 2003. In addition to the recent alleged shooting attacks, he was charged with 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.

According to the Shin Bet, the two were responsible for two shooting attacks on buses outside the Beit El settlement in the central West Bank in November 2018 and January 2019, injuring three people in total.

The security service said the pair also carried out a third such shooting in December outside the Psagot settlement, but failed to hit the bus they were targeting 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 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)

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.

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.

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 until his arrest in February, representing terror suspects in both civilian courts in Israel and military courts in the West Bank.

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 initial 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.

According to the security service, Zubeidi’s alleged participation in the shooting attacks outside Beit El represents 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.

“Therefore, Zubeidi will be brought to justice for all of the terrorist activities in which he was involved — both from his past and those that were uncovered recently,” the Shin Bet said.

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)

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.

The Israeli government rescinded Zubeidi’s amnesty in 2011, but never offered a public explanation. Zubeidi has technically been on Jerusalem’s wanted list ever since, though no real efforts were made to arrest him.

After the amnesty was revoked, Zubeidi was put in Palestinian Authority custody in Ramallah as a condition for avoiding arrest by Israel. In 2017, he was released by the PA and permitted to return to Jenin.

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

According to the security service, Zubeidi and Barghout were responsible for shooting attacks on buses outside Beit El on November 7 and January 5.

A bullethole is seen in the window of a bus that was fired upon on Route 466 in the West Bank near the settlement of Beit El on November 7, 2018. (Beit El security)

Two people were lightly injured in the November attack, getting hit by shards of glass. In the January attack, the bus driver was lightly wounded by pieces of the windshield that was hit by gunfire.

The security service said Barghouti also “admitted that he’d carried out another shooting attack on November 19, 2016, against a police car” at a checkpoint adjacent to East Jerusalem near the town of Abu Dis. It said damage was caused in that attack.

According to the Shin Bet, the pair used Zubeidi’s car in the attacks and in the preparations for them — a vehicle he was given by the PA as part of his work for the Prisoner Affairs Ministry.

“This was a grave act in which a senior member of the Palestinian Prisoner Affairs Ministry and an Israeli lawyer who worked for the Palestinian Prisoner Affairs Ministry carried out serious terror attacks, using a PA car that was used by Zakaria for his work in the ministry,” an unnamed senior Shin Bet official said in a statement.

“Intelligence and operational efforts by security forces, immediately after the shooting attacks and the following weeks — all of this within Ramallah city limits — led to the discovery of this cell and prevented future serious terror attacks,” he said.

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