Shin Bet says it thwarted plot to assassinate defense minister

Agency says Palestinian Islamic Jihad-linked cell members sought to kill Avigdor Liberman with roadside IED, were motivated by PA benefits to terrorists

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

Muhammad Ali Ibrahim al-Askara (R) and Awad Mahmoud al-Asakra (R), two suspected members of a Palestinian Islamic Jihad-linked terrorist cell that was plotting to assassinate Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman. (courtesy Shin Bet)
Muhammad Ali Ibrahim al-Askara (R) and Awad Mahmoud al-Asakra (R), two suspected members of a Palestinian Islamic Jihad-linked terrorist cell that was plotting to assassinate Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman. (courtesy Shin Bet)

The Shin Bet security service said Sunday it had arrested members of a Palestinian terrorist cell who were plotting to assassinate Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman with a roadside bomb.

The Shin Bet also announced it busted a second Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist cell planning shooting attacks against IDF soldiers and Israeli civilians in the Etzion Bloc of the West Bank.

A statement from the internal security service said six suspects linked to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist group were involved in the plot to detonate an explosive device underneath Liberman’s car while it was traveling in the West Bank.

According to the Shin Bet investigation, the group sought assistance in carrying out the attack from terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip. But the agency said the Palestinian would-be terrorists were “deterred” by Liberman’s extensive security detail and the plot was foiled “in the very early stages” of planning.

The ringleaders of the cell were identified as Bethlehem-area natives Awad Mahmoud al-Asakra, 25, and Muhammad Ali Ibrahim al-Askara, 32.

Awad Asakra in 2015 served two years in an Israeli prison for plotting a terrorist attack.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman arrives at the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on December 31, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90

Ali Ibrahim Askara, a known Islamic Jihad activist, was also previously jailed for terrorist-related activities, serving two separate sentences in Israel for planning attacks against IDF soldiers.

The suspects told Shin Bet interrogators they sought assistance from terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip to buy the materials for the bomb. When they were unable to purchase the materials or secure assistance from Gaza, the group built a dummy device in an effort to prove their intent to their peers in the Strip.

The dummy bomb was confiscated during their arrest.

The agency only briefly referred to the second Palestinian Islamic Jihad cell that is said had planned shooting attacks, but did not elaborate.

The Shin Bet investigation also revealed that members of both cells were motivated by the Palestinian Authority’s benefits package awarded to the families of terrorists killed or jailed for carrying out attacks against Israeli targets.

The statement did not specify when the arrests took place, but indicated it was in recent months.

The announcement comes on the heels of a flareup in tensions along the Gaza border. Early Sunday morning, two Palestinians were killed by IDF tank fire in Gaza, Palestinian medical sources said, after four Israeli soldiers were wounded by an explosive device along the Strip’s border and as a rocket hit an Israeli border town.

Israeli fighter jets also launched a series of airstrikes over the weekend targeting 18 “Hamas targets” in the Gaza Strip, after four Israeli soldiers were injured, two of them seriously, by explosives planted on the border.

Liberman told the Ynet news site later on Sunday that an umbrella group of Palestinian terrorists, the Popular Resistance Committee, was responsible for planting the device along the border.

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