Shin Bet: Lebanese man tried to recruit Palestinians for terror via TikTok

Agency says two East Jerusalem men with Israeli residency were in contact with former Hezbollah operative Abu Ghassan, who instructed them to conduct surveillance operations

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

This handout photo from the Shin Bet on February 2, 2023, shows social media profiles used by Abu Ghassan, a Lebanese man, to allegedly recruit Palestinians for terror. (Shin Bet)
This handout photo from the Shin Bet on February 2, 2023, shows social media profiles used by Abu Ghassan, a Lebanese man, to allegedly recruit Palestinians for terror. (Shin Bet)

The Shin Bet security agency on Thursday said it had recently uncovered attempts by a Lebanese man, a former Hezbollah operative, to recruit Palestinians for terror via the TikTok video-sharing mobile application.

The agency said two East Jerusalem men, residents of Israel, were arrested over their alleged ties with the man, Salah Swouti, known as Abu Ghassan.

According to the Shin Bet, Abu Ghassan instructed them to conduct surveillance operations in Israel, as the pair have Israeli ID cards. The agency said they “photographed places in Israel, with a focus on Jerusalem, in order to advance terror attacks.”

The two men were not identified, and it was not clear when they were arrested.

The Shin Bet said Abu Ghassan, a former operative in the Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group, would make contact with potential operatives in East Jerusalem and the West Bank via TikTok.

“At the beginning of the exchange, ‘Abu Ghassan’ focuses on personal matters and general discourse, such as the situation in Jerusalem and conflicts between Jews and Arabs,” the agency said.

A police officer is seen in the Shuafat refugee camp in East Jerusalem, during clashes with Palestinians, on October 12, 2022. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

“Later, as part of the recruitment process that is characteristic of Hezbollah, ‘Abu Ghassan’ moves the conversation to Telegram. There he forwards seemingly innocent requests to carry out tasks, such as taking photos and videos in Israel, as a possible target for an attack,” the Shin Bet said.

“Over time and with the strengthening of the connection between the parties, ‘Abu Ghassan’ instructs his operatives to initiate terror attacks against Israeli citizens, ignoring the damage that will be caused to the operatives and their families,” the Shin Bet added.

Last week, the Shin Bet revealed an attempt by the Gaza Strip-based Hamas terror group to recruit Palestinians to help commit attacks.

The Shin Bet said it viewed the attempts to recruit Israeli residents for terror “gravely,” adding that it “calls for vigilance online in light of the threat posed by various terror elements on social networks.”

In September, Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar said incitement on social media was a major challenge for the security agency, as it was difficult to prevent algorithms from echoing inciting content that reaches easily influenced youth.

“It is a new battlefield for security agencies. It brings more people into terrorism and challenges the tools we have to combat terrorism. Terror groups have identified this, and they know how to cause copycat attacks, and influence others,” Bar said at a conference at Herzliya’s Reichman University.

Bar said combating online incitement was especially difficult as the agency needs to safeguard democracy and protect freedom of speech.

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