A group of four Palestinians, including one who was granted temporary Israeli residency on humanitarian grounds, planned to carry out a terror attack at a wedding hall where one worked and also kidnap an IDF soldier to be used for leverage in negotiations with Israel, Israeli security officials said Thursday.
The plans were thwarted by a joint Shin Bet security service and Israel Police investigation, details of which were permitted for publication on Thursday as southern state prosecutors filed indictments against the men at the Beersheba District Court.
According to the Shin Bet, the four planned to carry out an attack on an event hall in southern Israel, as well as kidnapping and killing an IDF soldier to use his remains as a bargaining chip. The release did not detail what type of attack was planned on the hall or where it was located.
According to media reports, the intended target was the Narnia event hall in Beersheba.
The cell was allegedly led by Mahmoud Yusef Hassin Abu Taha, a resident of Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip who was arrested by Israeli authorities on September 21 at the Erez border crossing as he sought entry into Israel for what he said were trade reasons.
During questioning by the Shin Bet, Taha admitted he was the head of a terror group directed by the Islamic Jihad group in the Gaza.
Taha told investigators he was drafted by Wael Sufyan Abu Taha, a senior activist in the Islamic Jihad terror group living in Gaza, who tasked him with establishing a terror cell and organizing attacks. The Shin Bet statement did not say if there was a family connection between the two men.
Mahmoud Abu Taha put together a group of three additional would-be attackers, all of whom have since been arrested, who were living in Israel. The group included Hani M’suad Nasir Abu Amrah, 40, a Gazan who now lives in the south of Israel after being granted Israeli citizenship under the family reunification program.
The other two members were Shafik Hamad Ahmed Abu Taha, 55, a Gaza Strip native illegally in Israel who was employed at the event hall where they planned the carry out the attack, and Ahmed Tisir Avad Alrahman Abu Taha, 39, from Gaza.
Both were residing in Israel illegally.
Family reunification in Israel typically involves an Israeli citizen requesting citizenship for his or her non-Israeli spouse. Most unification applications are submitted by Israeli Arabs on behalf of a Palestinian spouse living in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip.
The process for Palestinians has been suspended in recent years due to concerns it was being abused by terror groups to gain access to Israel.
“The case once again stresses the manner in which terror groups take advantage of the permits to enter Israel, which are given for humanitarian and economic reasons. And also the risk posed to the presence in Israel of Palestinians who don’t have a permit to be there,” the Shin Bet statement said.
In preparation for the attacks, Mahmoud and Shafik scouted out the event hall and based on the information gleaned they adjusted their plan to increase the number of casualties, the Shin Bet said.
It did not detail what type of weapon was planned to be used in the attack.
Mahmoud also took steps toward planning the kidnapping of an IDF soldier. For that purpose he was given thousands of shekels by Wael Sufyan Abu Taha to rent an apartment in Israel.
He planned to draw a soldier to the apartment, murder him and bury the body, then use his remains as a bargaining chip in negotiations with Israel.
In the past, terror groups have used kidnapped IDF soldiers or the remains of soldiers to bargain for the release of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.