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Ohio man facing federal terrorism charges for plotting synagogue attack

FBI says Damon Joseph planned to carry out mass-shooting during Shabbat services on behalf of the Islamic State, told undercover agent he was inspired by Pittsburgh massacre

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

  • Damon Joseph, arrested on December 7, 2018, faces federal terrorism charges for plotting to attack a synagogue in Toledo, Ohio. (US Department of Justice)
    Damon Joseph, arrested on December 7, 2018, faces federal terrorism charges for plotting to attack a synagogue in Toledo, Ohio. (US Department of Justice)
  • The parents of the pregnant Israeli woman critically injured in a terror attack in the West Bank speak to reporters at Shaarei Zedek hospital on December 10, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)
    The parents of the pregnant Israeli woman critically injured in a terror attack in the West Bank speak to reporters at Shaarei Zedek hospital on December 10, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)
  • Israeli soldiers deploy during clashes in the West Bank city of Ramallah following a raid on December 10, 2018, one day after a drive-by terror shooting attack next to an Israeli settlement. (Abbas Momani/AFP)
    Israeli soldiers deploy during clashes in the West Bank city of Ramallah following a raid on December 10, 2018, one day after a drive-by terror shooting attack next to an Israeli settlement. (Abbas Momani/AFP)
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem on December 9, 2018. (Oded Balilty / POOL / AFP)
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem on December 9, 2018. (Oded Balilty / POOL / AFP)
  • Demonstrators hold placards and flags at the 'Brexit Betrayal Rally,' a pro-Brexit rally, on Whitehall in London, December 9, 2018. (Tim Ireland/AP)
    Demonstrators hold placards and flags at the 'Brexit Betrayal Rally,' a pro-Brexit rally, on Whitehall in London, December 9, 2018. (Tim Ireland/AP)
  • Israeli soldiers take position during clashes with Palestinian stone throwers following a raid in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on December 10, 2018. (ABBAS MOMANI / AFP)
    Israeli soldiers take position during clashes with Palestinian stone throwers following a raid in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on December 10, 2018. (ABBAS MOMANI / AFP)
  • Israeli security and medical personnel evacuate the injured after Ofra shooting attack, at Shaarei Tzedek Hospital in Jerusalem, December 9, 2018 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
    Israeli security and medical personnel evacuate the injured after Ofra shooting attack, at Shaarei Tzedek Hospital in Jerusalem, December 9, 2018 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Monday’s events as they unfolded.

Assad: Israel deliberately caused Syria to down Russian plane

Syria’s President Bashar Assad says Israel deliberately caused Syrian ground batteries to down a Russian transport aircraft during an Israeli airstrike on September 17.

In an interview with an Omani newspaper, Assad says Damascus and Moscow agree the friendly fire incident that killed 15 Russian military personnel was not an accident.

“Our leadership is united with the Russians, and it is clear that the incident is deliberate. The Russian media is transparent and has managed to expose the lies of some of the claims,” he says, according to the Ynet news site.

Moscow has already pinned responsibility for the downing on Israel, saying its fighter jet used the larger Russian one as cover, an allegation Israel disputes.

Russia subsequently upgraded Syrian air defenses with the delivery of the advanced S-300 system, which Damascus insisted would make Israel “think carefully” before carrying out further air raids.

On Saturday, Russian President Vladimir Putin told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Israel and Russia need to improve their military cooperation in Syria.

Body found in search for man missing since flooding

Police say search and rescue teams looking for a man missing since the heavy flooding over the weekend have located a body close to the Alexander River in northern Israel.

The family of truck driver Ramsi Jabarn, 36, a father of two from Jisr az-Zarqa, is being notified of the discovery.

Rivlin to incoming council heads: Not denouncing terrorism ‘unacceptable’

President Reuven Rivlin tells the incoming heads of local councils it’s unacceptable for elected officials not to denounce terrorism.

At a welcome reception at his Jerusalem residence, Rivlin says: “We expect every public official in Israel, in the local or national arena, to be unequivocal in expressing zero tolerance for terrorism.”

“It’s inconceivable that elected officials in Israel would express support for terrorism and terrorist organizations,” he says.

Rivlin is referring to Raja Za’atara, the incoming deputy mayor of Haifa, who has sparked outrage for voicing support for Hamas and Hezbollah. Yesterday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on Haifa Mayor Einat Kalisch-Rotem to cancel his appointment.

Ultra-Orthodox draft protesters blocking roads in Bnei Brak

Ultra-Orthodox men protesting the arrest of draft-dodger are blocking roads in the city of Bnei Brak.

According to reports, the city’s Jabotinsky Street is closed in both directions. Police are working to disperse the protesters.

Facing defeat, May said to to postpone Brexit vote

British Prime Minister Theresa May will address parliament this afternoon, a spokeswoman for the speaker’s office tells AFP, amid reports that the government will postpone a critical vote on her Brexit deal with EU leaders.

May is widely expected to lose tomorrow’s vote amid strong opposition from all sides to the terms of the divorce, and a defeat could lead to her removal either by the opposition or by members of her own Conservative Party.

— AFP

Top general says Iran able to extend missile range beyond 2,000 km

A top Iranian general says his country has the ability to extend the range of its ballistic missiles, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.

Amirali Hajizadeh, the head of the air division for the hardline Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, says Iranian missiles currently have a range of 2,000 kilometers, but the military “has the ability to build missiles with a broader range,” according to a translation from Reuters.

In his remarks to students at Tehran’s University of Science and Technology, Hajizadeh says that many “enemy bases” are within 800 kilometers of Iran.

“We don’t have limitations from a technical perspective or by conventions with regard to missile range,” he adds.

Last month, amid ongoing tensions between Tehran and Washington over the nuclear deal, Hajizadeh claimed US military personnel and assets in the Middle East are within range of Iranian missiles.

He said improvements to Iran’s missile arsenal saw the weapons outfitted with improved precision capabilities, making it possible to hit targets over 500 kilometers away to within 30 meters accuracy.

Police arrest 18 ultra-Orthodox draft protesters in Bnei Brak

Police arrest 18 ultra-Orthodox demonstrators who were blocking traffic and causing disturbances in Bnei Brak to protest of the arrest of a draft-dodging yeshiva student last month.

In a statement, police say the protesters were causing disturbances and throwing water bottles at officers dispersing the illegal protest.

Traffic in and around the central city of Bnei Brak is jammed because of the protest.

Neo-Nazi convicted of Charlottesville rampage awaits sentence

An American neo-Nazi convicted of first-degree murder for driving his car into counterprotesters at a white nationalist rally in Virginia faces 20 years to life in prison as jurors reconvene to consider his punishment.

The panel that convicted James Alex Fields Jr. will hear more evidence today before recommending a sentence for Judge Richard Moore.

Fields was convicted Friday of killing Heather Heyer during last year’s “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, organized to protest the planned removal of a statue of Confederal Gen. Robert E. Lee.

The 21-year-old Fields, of Maumee, Ohio, also was found guilty of injuring dozens of others by driving into a crowd of people who were marching peacefully after the rally.

— with AP

Trump blames lawyer Michael Cohen for hush money ‘liability’

US President Donald Trump is defending the hush money payments made by his former lawyer to two women during his 2016 campaign as “a simple private transaction.” He tweets that if there was wrongdoing, it’s lawyer Michael Cohen’s “liability” and not his.

Federal prosecutors said in a court filing Friday that Cohen “acted with the intent to influence the 2016 presidential election” and at the direction of Trump when he brokered deals to stop women from going public about their alleged affairs with Trump.

Trump has argued that the payments — which he first denied knowledge of — weren’t campaign contributions because his own money and not campaign funds were used for the payments.

But federal law requires disclosure of payments made “for the purposes of influencing” an election.

— AP

Netanyahu vows to capture terrorists behind ‘monstrous’ Ofra attack

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vows that the Palestinian terrorists who opened fire at a bus stop outside a West Bank settlement last night will be caught and brought to justice.

In a Knesset speech, Netanyahu calls the drive-by shooting attack that left an Israeli woman and and her unborn baby fighting for their lives a “monstrous” attack.

“Our security forces, the Shin Bet security service and the IDF, are pursuing these murderers,” he says according to a statement. “They will capture them, bring them to justice and settle our score.”

He also slams the Palestinian Authority, saying it’s “too much to expect” the Ramallah government to condemn the attack, saying “they only contribute to incitement here.”

Plaques honoring Rome’s deported Jews reported stolen

Rome’s mayor denounces the apparent theft of 20 small bronze plaques honoring the members of a Jewish family deported during the Holocaust.

The plaques, affixed to the cobblestones in front of the Di Consiglio family home in the Monti neighborhood, were apparently taken overnight. A gaping hole was all that remained Monday.

Italian news agency ANSA says the organization responsible for the plaques, “Arte in Memory,” reported the discovery. In July, the same group reported receiving a threatening letter featuring a photo of Adolf Hitler.

In a tweet, Mayor Virginia Raggi condemned the plaques’ theft as unacceptable: “Memory requires respect.”

Rome’s historic center houses the Jewish ghetto, near Monti, and its cobblestoned streets are dotted with the plaques in front of homes of Jews who were killed or deported.

— AP

Netanyahu resists calls to legalize Ofra after attack

Netanyahu is resisting calls to legalize Jewish homes in Ofra that are built on private Palestinian land in response to last night’s terror attack outside the West Bank settlement.

Netanyahu says at a Likud faction meeting his government is working through the courts to get retroactive approval for construction for Jewish homes, but “what you think is simple is much more complex.”

He expresses hope the homes will be legalized by the court. “If that can be done, wonderful. If not, we’ll see,” he says.

Lebanon says police thwarted bombing attacks by Islamic State

Lebanon’s Interior Minister Nouhad Mashnouk says the country’s police have discovered and thwarted planned bombing attacks by the Islamic State jihadist group.

Mashnouk tells reporters the bombs were smuggled in from the rebel-held northwestern Syrian province of Idlib in buckets of cheese, and were intended for targeting places of worship, gatherings of Christians and military posts.

The minister added that the attacks were supposed to take place during Lebanon’s parliamentary elections in May.

He added that those planning the attacks were monitored by police intelligence for 10 months through a Syrian informer in Lebanon.

The announcement came ahead of the Christmas season when many Lebanese celebrate in public places.

IS and al-Qaeda-linked jihadists carried have out attacks in Lebanon in the past, killing scores.

— AP

Israeli troops raid Ramallah offices of official PA news outlet

Security forces raid the Ramallah offices of the Palestinian Authority’s Official news outlet, Wafa, after Palestinian gunmen opened fire at a group of Israelis waiting at a bus stop last night in the West Bank.

Wafa says Israeli troops locked down the building, and checked the identities of everyone inside. Wafa says the security forces also accessed the server, and reviewed the agency’s security camera footage.

Low-level clashes broke out in several places across Ramallah, including outside the Wafa offices and a few hundred meters from PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s home, according to AFP journalists.

An IDF spokeswoman declines to comment on the Ramallah raid, including whether it is part of the hunt for the gunmen from last night’s attack outside the settlement of Ofra.

— with AFP

11 Gazans said injured in border clashes with Israeli troops

Eleven Palestinians are injured by Israeli troops during a demonstration in the northern Gaza Strip, the Hamas-run Heath Ministry says.

The protesters gathered at the beach in northern Gaza in a show of solidarity for a maritime flotilla seeking to break the Israeli blockade on Gaza.

Reports in Palestinian media say Israeli soldiers used tear gas and live ammunition to disperse the protesters.

May postpones vote in parliament on Brexit deal

British Prime Minister Theresa May postpones Parliament’s vote on her European Union divorce deal to avoid a shattering defeat — a decision that throws her Brexit plans into chaos.

All signs had pointed to a big defeat for the prime minister in the vote planned for tomorrow. But postponing the vote is a fresh humiliation for May, who became prime minister after Britain’s 2016 decision to leave the EU.

May has been battling on Brexit ever since — first to strike a divorce deal with the bloc, then to sell it to skeptical British lawmakers before the UK leaves the bloc on March 29.

Both Conservative and opposition Labour Party lawmakers have said they would not back the divorce deal that May and EU leaders agreed on last month.

— AP

Condition of pregnant woman critically injured in Ofra terror attack improves

The father of the pregnant woman critically injured in the terror attack in Ofra last night says her condition has improved some, but her baby’s life is still at risk.

Speaking to reporters from Shaare Zedek hospital, Haim Silverstein says his daughter Shira woke up from a coma this afternoon, but she remains in critical condition.

“We were able to see her for a few minutes and she opened her eye halfway, and started to cry when she saw us,” he says.

Silverstein says his grandchild, who was delivered last night by emergency cesarean section, is still fighting for his life.

The head of emergency medicine at Shaare Zedek, Dr. Alon Schwartz, says the baby’s condition is deteriorating rapidly. Schwartz says the infant is in a medically induced coma, and that doctors believe he sustained a brain injury in the attack.

“We are running some tests, and doctors are fighting for his life in these moments,” Schwartz says.

Qatar offered Israel to build airport in Gaza, envoy says

Qatar asked Israel for permission to construct an airport in the Gaza Strip, which would be under its security supervision, Mohammed al-Emadi, Doha’s point man for the coastal enclave, tells a Palestinian news site.

Emadi says Qatar proposed to Israel building an airport that would “principally” be under its supervision, with all flights leaving and returning to Gaza through Doha.

He says Israel informed him the request “would be studied,” but “procrastinated” in responding. Instead, Emadi says Israel offered Doha an airport in Israel for Palestinian use.

Israel and Egypt imposed an air, land and sea blockade of Gaza after the Hamas terror group seized power.

Qatar often serves as a mediator between the enemies. The energy-rich Gulf state also has overseen large reconstruction projects in the war-battered territory.

— Adam Rasgon and AP

Accused Russian ‘agent’ to plead guilty

A Russian gun rights advocate who built a powerful network of Republican contacts that reached into President Donald Trump’s circle has reached a deal to plead guilty, after her arrest for acting as an illegal foreign agent, a court filing by her lawyers indicated.

Maria Butina, 30, was arrested in July by counter-espionage agents and charged with conspiring to act as an agent of Russia “by developing relationships with US persons and infiltrating organizations having influence in American politics.”

Butina, whose first name is also spelled Maria, at the time pleaded not guilty to charges of acting illegally as an unregistered agent for the Russian government.

— AFP

IDF unveils audio recording of Hezbollah digging tunnels into Israel

The Israeli military on Monday evening released audio recordings of what it says are the sounds of the Hezbollah terrorist group tunneling into Israeli territory from southern Lebanon.

The recordings of seismic activity were part of what allowed a multidisciplinary military task force, which Israel calls “The Laboratory,” to locate a number of attack tunnels dug by the Iran-backed terror group, the army says.

— Judah Ari Gross

PA official condemns Israeli raid on official news agency

A Palestinian Authority official condemns a raid by Israeli security forces on the Ramallah headquarters of the official PA news outlet Wafa.

Speaking to Palestine TV, Ahmad Assaf, the PA official responsible for overseeing government-run Palestinian media, calls the Israeli raid a “crime” and vows it will not dissuade him or his colleagues from “exposing the occupation’s crimes.”

Assaf also asserts the Palestinians will follow up on the raid in international institutions and organizations in order to hold it accountable.

Yesterday, seven people were injured in a shooting outside the Ofra settlement in the West Bank.

An IDF spokeswoman declined to say whether the Ramallah raid was connected to last night’s attack outside Ofra.

Senior IDF delegation departing for Moscow for talks with Russian counterparts

A delegation of senior IDF officials will depart for Moscow tomorrow to discuss Israel’s ongoing operation to destroy Hezbollah attack tunnels along the Lebanese border, the army says in a statement.

The statement says the one-day visit follows a conversation between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The delegation will be lead by the head of IDF Operations, Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva.

Ohio man facing federal terrorism charges for plotting synagogue attack

The FBI announces the arrest of a 21-year-old Ohio man on terrorism charges plotting to attack two synagogues in the city of Toledo.

According to the Department of Justice, Damon M. Joseph was arrested on Thursday after acquiring 2 AR-15 rifles. He has been charged with one count of attempting to provide material support for the Islamic State jihadist group.

The affidavit filed in US District Court in Toledo said Joseph was inspired by the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting attack in October that killed 11 Jewish worshipers.

Earlier in December, Joseph told an undercover FBI agent that he was identifying synagogues in the Toldeo area to carry out a mass-shooting attack in the name of the Islamic State. He told the undercover agent that Jews were evil, and that the Tree of Life Synagogue victims “got what was coming to them.”

“I admire what the guy did with the shooting actually,” Joseph wrote to the agent in one communication. “I can see myself carrying out this type of operation inshallah. They wouldn’t even [an attack] expect in my area…”

ADL praises law enforcement for thwarting attack against Ohio synagogue

The Anti-Defamation League thanks US law enforcement for thwarting a “horrific terrorist attack” on the Jewish community in Toledo, Ohio.

“We are tremendously grateful to law enforcement at both the federal and local levels for apprehending the suspect, and for working so diligently to prevent terror from hitting our community,” ADL Cleveland Regional Director Jeremy Pappas says in a statement.

“The Jewish community is still grieving following the October attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, and it’s shocking to hear another attack was being planned,” the statement says.

US sanctions three N. Korean officials over human rights

The United States says it is imposing sanctions on three senior North Korean officials over human rights abuses, despite President Donald Trump’s efforts to woo the regime into a denuclearization accord.

The sanctioned officials include Choe Ryong Hae, who has been considered a right-hand man to leader Kim Jong Un.

The Treasury Department say it is taking action against “North Korea’s reprehensible treatment” of its citizens, in accordance with a 2016 US law that requires sanctions over rights abuses.

“The United States has consistently condemned the North Korean regime for its flagrant and egregious abuses of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and this administration will continue to take action against human rights abusers around the globe,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says in a statement.

The orders — announced on the UN-backed Human Rights Day — include the seizure of any assets of the three officials in the United States and a ban on any US-based financial transactions with them.

— AFP

Macron vows to use ‘all means’ to restore calm

French President Emmanuel Macron is promising “all means” will be used to restore calm after the disruptive protests that have deeply shaken the nation.

Macron is addressing France for the first time since anti-tax protests around the country turned into rioting in Paris.

Trying to sound gentle and calming, Macron acknowledges “anger and indignation” among members of the public over the cost of living.

But he also says “no indulgence” will be given to people behind the protest violence.

He says “no anger justifies” attacking police or looting stores, saying both threaten France’s cherished liberty.

— AP

Abbas to hold urgent talks with Arab leaders over IDF raid in Ramallah

In the wake of the Israeli raid on the Ramallah headquarters of the Palestinian Authority’s news agency Wafa, PA President Mahmoud Abbas will hold a series of urgent meetinsg with Arab leaders in the coming days to discuss the “dangerous Israeli escalation.”

According to Wafa, Abbas “important and crucial decisions” will be made if Israeli security forces continue incursions into Palestinian Authority-controlled cities.

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ADL praises law enforcement for thwarting attack against Ohio synagogue

The Anti-Defamation League thanks US law enforcement for thwarting a “horrific terrorist attack” on the Jewish community in Toledo, Ohio.

“We are tremendously grateful to law enforcement at both the federal and local levels for apprehending the suspect, and for working so diligently to prevent terror from hitting our community,” ADL Cleveland Regional Director Jeremy Pappas says in a statement.

“The Jewish community is still grieving following the October attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, and it’s shocking to hear another attack was being planned,” the statement says.