Hamas cell accused of bombing Jerusalem bus nabbed
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Hamas cell accused of bombing Jerusalem bus nabbed

Shin Bet says group of 6 Palestinians from Bethlehem planned suicide blast, as well as future attacks in capital

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

Firefighters and rescue personnel at the scene of a suicide bus bombing in Jerusalem, in which 20 people were wounded, on April 18, 2016, (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Firefighters and rescue personnel at the scene of a suicide bus bombing in Jerusalem, in which 20 people were wounded, on April 18, 2016, (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Israeli security forces arrested six alleged members of a Hamas terror cell accused of planning and carrying out a suicide bombing in Jerusalem last month, the Shin Bet security service announced Sunday.

On April 18, Abed al-Hamid Abu Srour boarded the number 12 public bus in the capital and detonated an explosive device, injuring 19 people and killing himself, in the first suicide bus bombing in Israel since 2004.

The Shin Bet, Israel Defense Forces and Police launched an investigation to track down Abu Srour’s accomplices. Details of the case were placed under a court-approved gag order, which was removed Sunday morning.

The alleged Hamas terror cell was made up of six Palestinian men, all from the Bethlehem area, the Shin Bet said.

The security agency would not reveal the precise dates of the arrests, only that they’d happened “in recent weeks.”

Abed al-Hamid Abu Srour seen here in an undated photograph, has been named by Hamas as the person responsible for the April 18 bus bombing in Jerusalem. He died of wounds sustained in the terror attack on April 20, 2016. (Courtesy)
Abed al-Hamid Abu Srour seen here in an undated photograph, has been named by Hamas as the person responsible for the April 18 bus bombing in Jerusalem. He died of wounds sustained in the terror attack on April 20, 2016. (Courtesy)

In addition to the April bus bombing, the Shin Bet found the cell had planned additional attacks, mostly car bombings and shootings, and had been creating improvised explosive devices based off “educational videos from the internet,” the security service said.

Muhammad Sami Abd Alhamid al-A’zza, a 28-year-old resident of Beit Sahour near Bethlehem, admitted to investigators that he’d crafted the explosive device used by Abu Srour in the Jerusalem bus bombing, the Shin Bet said.

“Once the creation of the device was completed, they worked together to enlist a suicide bomber and then prepare the attack, specifically planning how to infiltrate Jerusalem,” the Shin Bet said al-A’zza revealed during his interrogation.

Israeli police check a burned-out bus that was blown up in a terror attack in Jerusalem on April 18, 2016. (AFP/Ahmad Gharabli)
Israeli police check a burned-out bus that was blown up in a terror attack in Jerusalem on April 18, 2016. (AFP/Ahmad Gharabli)

“At the same time, they worked to plan additional attacks and tried to obtain additional weapons and explosive material,” the security service said.

In addition to the plans for future acts, the Shin Bet found that al-A’zza and another suspect, 28-year-old Muhammad Issa Mahmoud al-Barbari, had carried out a shooting attack near the Jewish settlement of Tekoa in 2015, albeit one that resulted in no casualties.

Al-A’zza had previously served a prison sentence from 2004 to 2007 for planning terror attacks with Hamas.

According to investigators, Muhammad Majdi Mustafa al-A’zza, 21, worked alongside al-A’zza in creating the explosive device used in the attack and also recruited members of the cell, including Abu Srour.

Ahmad Muhammad Mahmoud al-Mashaiekh, a 19-year-old from the al-Ayda refugee camp, has been accused of driving the suicide bomber to the Jerusalem for the attack, though the security service did not reveal how exactly they sneaked into the capital.

Israeli forces also picked up Ali Ahmad Muhammad al-A’rouj and Sai’d Usama Issa Hermes, who were found to be involved, though to a lesser extent in the attack, according to the Shin Bet.

Al-A’rouj, who was also imprisoned from 2004 to 2007 for planning an IED attack, helped raised money for the group, assisted in the production of the bomb used in the April attack and filmed Abu Srour’s testimonial video before he carried out the attack, the security service said.

Hermes, meanwhile, helped Abu Srour write the testimony and helped al-A’rouj film it, the Shin Bet said.

The agency also found that after al-A’zza and al-Barbari’s 2015 shooting, Hermes offered his home as a hiding place for the homemade gun used in the attack.

The Shin Bet’s findings have been handed over to a military court and in the coming days the members of the alleged terror cell will be indicted.

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