Police say top Islamic cleric held for incitement to terror
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Police say top Islamic cleric held for incitement to terror

Sheikh Raed Salah taken into custody in overnight raid on his home after making public statements, some to media, allegedly supporting terror attacks

Israeli-Arab Sheikh Raed Salah the leader of the radical northern wing of the Islamic Movement in Israel, prayers with supporters in Umm al-Fahm after he was released from prison on January 17, 2017. (AFP Photo/Ahmad Gharabli)
Israeli-Arab Sheikh Raed Salah the leader of the radical northern wing of the Islamic Movement in Israel, prayers with supporters in Umm al-Fahm after he was released from prison on January 17, 2017. (AFP Photo/Ahmad Gharabli)

Islamic cleric Raed Salah, who heads the banned Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement, was arrested late Monday following a raid on his home in the northern Israeli city of Umm al-Fahm.

Neighbors said large police forces arrived at the home in the Mahajaneh neighborhood of the city, searched the residence, and took Salah in for questioning.

In a statement, police said Tuesday morning that they had arrested for questioning under caution “a central instigator” of the Islamic Movement on suspicion of incitement to violence and terror, as well as supporting and being active in a banned organization. The statement was apparently referring to the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement that split from the main organization.

“The investigation is being conducted together with the Shin Bet and was authorized by the State Attorney’s Office, as required in incitement cases, with the consent of the attorney general,” police said and added that the the Haifa district state prosecutor is handling the case.

“On a number of occasions, all of them after the movement was made illegal [in 2015], the inciter made statements before an audience and saw his statements quoted in the media. These statement are linked to the movement’s worldview. An examination of the [statements] raise the suspicion that some of the things said [by Salah] meet the criteria for the stated crimes.”

The statement did not specify which statements were being investigated.

Police said that depending on how the investigation develops they will consider bringing Salah before a court to request an extension of his remand.

The statement did not explicitly name Salah as the suspect.

Salah has spearheaded campaigns asserting that “Al-Aqsa is in danger,” focusing on the claim that Israel intends to change the status quo at the contested Temple Mount holy site in Jerusalem. The allegation, denied by Israel, was at the heart of last month’s violence and tensions surrounding the site.

One neighbor of Salah told the Ynet news site that the whole neighborhood was filled with police cars that were blocking the streets. “At first I thought there was a murder,” he said.

Salah, the head of the outlawed Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement, was released from prison in January after serving a nine-month sentence for incitement to violence and racism.

He was convicted over an inflammatory sermon he delivered in 2007 in Jerusalem in which he praised martyrdom for the sake of Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, which sits atop the flashpoint Temple Mount.

The Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement was outlawed in November 2015. The government charged the group with links to terrorist groups and inciting a wave of violence. “Any person who belongs to this organization or who provides services to it or who acts within its framework is henceforth committing a criminal offense punishable by a prison sentence,” a cabinet statement said at the time. The move also allowed for the confiscation of all property belonging to the group.

The Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement rejects the Oslo peace accords between Israel and the Palestinians and boycotts national elections on the grounds that they give legitimacy to the institutions of the Jewish state.

Founded in the 1970s, the Islamic Movement is a political organization, religious outreach group and social services provider rolled into one. The movement’s overarching goal is to make Israeli Muslims more religious and it owes much of its popularity to its provision of services often lacking in Israel’s Arab communities. The group runs kindergartens, colleges, health clinics, mosques and even a sports league – sometimes under the same roof.

The movement split two decades ago. The more moderate Southern Branch began fielding candidates for the Knesset in 1996 and is now part of the Joint List, an alliance of several Arab political parties. Three of the Joint List’s 13 current Knesset members are part of the movement.

The Northern Branch had also funded a group called the Mourabitun, whose protests against Jewish visitors at the Temple Mount have occasionally turned violent. In September last year, Israel banned the group from the Mount.

Umm al-Fahm was the home of the three terrorists who carried out an attack last month at the Temple Mount, emerging from the holy site with guns they had smuggled onto it to shoot dead two Israeli police officers.

Some 3,000 people attended the funerals of the terrorists who perpetrated the July 14 attack. They were hailed as “martyrs for al-Aqsa” and “shahids [martyrs].”

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