Shin Bet nabs Hamas terror cell ‘plotting attacks in Israel’
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Shin Bet nabs Hamas terror cell ‘plotting attacks in Israel’

Based on tip-off from Palestinian Authority, security forces arrest Arab Israeli, 2 Hebron-area men suspected of planning shootings, bombings and kidnappings

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Three men suspected of involvement in a Hamas terror cell appearing in Haifa court on February 6, 2017. (Flash90)
Three men suspected of involvement in a Hamas terror cell appearing in Haifa court on February 6, 2017. (Flash90)

The Shin Bet security service said Monday it had arrested two Palestinians and an Arab Israeli man who had formed an alleged Hamas terror cell that planned to carry out kidnapping, shooting and IED attacks in Israel.

The information that led to the arrests came from the Palestinian Authority, The Times of Israel has learned. Details of the plot were under a gag order that was partially lifted Monday.

The two Palestinian suspects in the case are brothers Hassan Sami Hassan Zidat, 23, and Muhammad Sami Hassan Zidat, 25, the Shin Bet said. Both of them are originally from Bani Na’im, outside Hebron, but they have lived in northern Israel illegally over the past few years.

The third man, 24-year-old Arab Israeli Mamdouh Younis from the northern town of Arara, was picked up for assisting the brothers in their plotting, according to the indictment.

Mamdouh Younis, an Arab Israeli man accused of planning terror attacks for Hamas, appears in the Haifa District Court on February 6, 2017. (Flash90)
Mamdouh Younis, an Arab Israeli man accused of planning terror attacks for Hamas, appears in the Haifa District Court on February 6, 2017. (Flash90)

The younger Hassan, who fled to Israel illegally in 2015 after being accused of murder by the Palestinian Authority, served as head of the cell, while his brother, who illegally entered Israel in 2014, was instructed to acquire the weapons, the Shin Bet said.

The two Zidats, along with Younis, appeared in a Haifa court Monday where they were charged with belonging to the Hamas terrorist organization and with weapons offenses. The Palestinian brothers were also charged with entering Israel illegally.

Investigators found that they were apparently working to gather intelligence ahead of an attack. The men successfully entered Israel and returned to Hebron at least once before Israeli authorities arrested them, the Shin Bet said in a statement.

The Hamas cell included at least three other operatives, all of them from the Hebron area, who stockpiled arms and explosives in a tunnel dug beneath a local home. Those three were arrested by the Palestinian Authority.

The cell was directed by Hamas agents in Gaza via Facebook, particularly from a group of former prisoners released in the 2011 Gilad Shalit deal who were deported to the Gaza Strip.

It planned shooting, bombing and kidnapping attacks in both the Hebron region and inside Israel, the Shin Bet said.

The group identified potential targets in northern Israel and was collecting intelligence on a number of locations, including an army base in Kfar Qara, the main synagogue in Zichron Ya’akov, the Binyamina central bus station and the Wadi Ara bus station, which is used primarily by IDF soldiers.

The security agency said that “exposing the infrastructure and activities which were planned and about to be carried out demonstrates once again the high level of threat from the Hamas terrorists, especially those who enter Israel and remain in the country illegally.”

According to the Shin Bet, the cell members gathered the information on the targets while they were employed in Israel without legal work permits.

Illustrative. A Carlo-style submachine gun that was allegedly used in a shooting attack on an Israeli car in the central West Bank on January 27, 2017. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
Illustrative. A Carlo-style submachine gun that was allegedly used in a shooting attack on an Israeli car in the central West Bank on January 27, 2017. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

The alleged Hamas operatives purchased Carlo-style submachine guns, tried to buy an AK-47 assault rifle, attempted to create improvised explosive devices and convinced other Palestinians to assist them in their plans.

The cell was reportedly part of a network under the command of two released prisoners Mazen Faqha and Abd al-Rahman Ghanimat.

Operatives from the group direct terror cells throughout the West Bank and each cell has its local commander. For example, Ghanimat is responsible for the Hebron region — considered the most dangerous — that operates jointly with the Hamas military leadership abroad, including figures such as Saleh al-Arouri and Musa Dodin who are both in Qatar.

Arouri and Dodin, together with the group’s headquarters in Gaza, operate a network of activists in the West Bank and transfer cash in various ways to be used for terror attacks. Among other means, they use tourists and visitors to the West Bank and Israel to move sums of money. Likewise, they’ve employed Israeli Jews unwittingly moved money into the West Bank without realizing that the cash was heading to Hamas.

The Palestinian Authority prisons hold dozens of Hamas operatives suspected of planning attacks against Israeli targets or helping finance operations. In 2016 alone, Israeli security forces uncovered 100 different cells, mostly belonging to Hamas, who planned attacks in the West Bank and Israel as part of an organized terror network, not as “lone wolf” attackers.

Bani Na’im was home to Muhammad Nasser Tarayrah, 17, who murdered 13-year-old Hallel Yaffa Ariel last June, as well as Saara Hagog, 27, another member of the Tarayrah family, who tried to stab Border Police officers at the entrance to the Tomb of the Patriarchs in July.

Avi Issacharoff and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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