Israeli security services arrested three members of an alleged Hamas terrorist cell in the northern West Bank suspected of planning to kidnap an Israeli citizen during the Hanukkah festival, the Shin Bet security service announced Wednesday.
The three Palestinian suspects were arrested in late October, following a weeks-long investigation during which the Shin Bet, Israel Defense Forces and Israel Police uncovered the kidnapping plot. Details of the case were kept secret under a gag order, which was removed on Wednesday as the findings were handed over to state prosecutors to begin preparing indictments.
The Shin Bet said the alleged ringleader of the terror cell was Mu’ad Ashtiyah, a 26-year-old Palestinian from the village of Tell, near Nablus in the northern West Bank.
He recruited cousins Mahmoud and Ahmad Ramadan, both 19 and also of Tell, to assist him in the plot, the security service said.
According to the Shin Bet, the three men planned to “kidnap a soldier or settler from one of the bus stations at a central junction in Samaria” — the biblical term for the northern West Bank.
“The plan was for them to dress up as local settlers and to get the abductee to get into their car,” the security service said.
The Shin Bet said the kidnapping was planned to take place during the eight-day Hanukkah holiday, which began on Tuesday evening.
“The goal of the terror attack was to advance negotiations for the release of security prisoners in Israeli prisons,” the security service said.
In preparation for the abduction, Ashtiyah purchased a pistol, pepper spray and a stun gun, the Shin Bet said.
“The cell planned to buy more weapons in order to carry out the terror attack,” the security service added.
The terror plot was funded by Hamas officials in the Gaza Strip, according to the Shin Bet.
They received direction and support from Omar Assida, a Hamas operative in the coastal enclave who was apparently released by Israel during a 2011 prisoner swap, in which over 1,000 convicted terrorists were set free in exchange for the kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
All three of the suspects are members of the Hamas terrorist group, the Shin Bet said.
Ashtiyah and the two Ramadans had begun collecting intelligence on the bus stops and roadways where they planned to carry out their abduction, the Shin Bet said.
The security service said that it had handed over the findings of its investigation to state prosecutors for them to “consider filing indictments against those involved.”