Three residents of the Arab city of Tayibe were sentenced to prison Monday over a plot to set a local stadium on fire to prevent a pop concert that offended their extremist views shaped by an allegiance to the Islamic State terror group.
Amir Abdel Hakim Jabara, 20, and Muhammad Tamim Nashaf, 32, were each handed a 36-month prison term, while Ibrahim Abdel Halim Sheikh Yusuf, 26, was given 28 months behind bars.
In a deal with prosecutors they pleaded guilty to supporting a terrorist organization, conspiracy to commit a crime motivated by hostility to the public, trespassing in order to commit a crime, and arson in aggravated circumstances, the Justice Ministry said in a statement.
They were arrested on September 14, three days after they tried to set fire to a soccer stadium in Tayibe (not to be confused with the West Bank city Taybeh) where an Arab Israeli singer, Haitham Khalaily, was supposed to perform.
The group failed to burn down the stadium, but set fire to a control panel and to some chairs around the stage, causing NIS 78,000 ($20,000) worth of damage, according to the indictment.
When their arson failed to prevent the concert, Nashaf tried to get the performance canceled with a fake bomb scare, calling police and warning them of an explosive device in the stadium.
On September 11, 2016, just as the concert was about to start, Nashaf called police and said, “We have planted an explosive on the field at Tayibe, get all the people out of there within 10 minutes before it explodes.”
This attempt, too, failed, and the performance took place as scheduled.
The trio, who confessed to their crimes, told investigators they saw the concert as an act of heresy according to their extremist interpretation of Islam.
Prosecutors had demanded a heavy sentence and compensation to the municipality for the damage done.
The court accepted prosecutors’ demands for lengthy sentences even though the defendants admitted to the crimes against them and had saved the court the time by pleading guilty, the statement said. The court noted that inits sentencing it had taken into account that the arson took place at night in the stadium, relatively far from residential buildings, which made the potential of causing injury low.
In April 2016, Jabara attempted to join the Islamic State in Syria by traveling through Turkey, but was stopped at the border by local police, the Shin Bet said at the time of the indictment in October 2016.
When he returned to Israel, Jabara was interrogated by both the Shin Bet and Israel Police, but was ultimately released.
Yusuf also planned to join the fighting in Syria, building a pedal-powered glider to cross the border from Israel, though this plan did not come to fruition, according to the security agency.
After studying Islamic State ideology, the three pledged allegiance to the terrorist group in May, the Shin Bet security service said.
Nearly a year before the arson attack, they tried to dig a tunnel between Tayibe and the nearby Palestinian city of Tulkarem, just across the security fence, according to the Shin Bet.
Through the tunnel, which they began digging in October 2015, the three men hoped to smuggle weapons into Israel for attacks, according to the indictment.
The suspects told interrogators those weapons would be used on “judgment day” when they would have to fight the “infidels,” the Shin Bet said.
However, there was no indication in the indictment that the men had made any attempts to purchase such weaponry.
The three men “only managed to dig a few meters and they did not cross the security fence,” the Shin Bet said.
After the men were arrested, the tunnel, along with a hole where they planned to keep weapons, was discovered and searched by the Israel Defense Forces.