Israeli forces arrested an East Jerusalem man suspected of planning to assassinate Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat earlier this year, on orders from a Syria-based terrorist group, the Shin Bet security service revealed on Tuesday.
The main suspect, 30-year-old Arab Israeli Muhammad Jamal Rashdeh, was arrested on April 24. Two more suspects were arrested in the following weeks, the Shin Bet said. The security service refused to identify the two suspected accomplices.
Indictments were filed against the three on May 27, but the case was kept under a court-issued gag order until Tuesday.
Later on Tuesday, the Israel Police released footage (above) of Rashdeh’s arrest from the Shuafat refugee camp in East Jerusalem where he lived.
“Working on orders from terrorist operatives abroad, Muhammad planned to carry out a number of significant terror attacks against a variety of targets,” the security service said.
The targets included Netanyahu and Barkat, as well as buildings belonging to the US consulate in Jerusalem (which has since been converted into an embassy) and a delegation of Canadian security officials who were in Jerusalem to train Palestinian Authority security forces in the West Bank, the Shin Bet said.
In a video statement, Barkat said that he’d been updated by the security service about the threats on his life when the information came out. He also said he didn’t change his routine despite the threat to his life.
A Shin Bet spokesperson said Rashdeh received his orders from members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command (PFLP-GC), a Syria-based terrorist group that fights alongside Syrian dictator Bashar Assad.
In order to carry out the attacks, Rashdeh and his accomplices planned to bring in an additional terrorist operative from Jordan, the Shin Bet said.
According to the security service, Rashdeh had already begun collecting intelligence about his targets.
“The arrest of the suspects thwarted significant terror attacks, which the cell had been requested to advance,” the Shin Bet said in a statement.
According to the Shin Bet, Rashdeh had previously been incarcerated for “terrorist activities.”
In his statement, Jerusalem Mayor Barkat praised the Shin Bet for foiling the assassination attempt on his life.
“Our internal security agency is one of the best in the world. Throughout their handling of this threat, I was updated and knew that the Shin Bet was in the picture and that the police were in the field. I could trust in them and sleep soundly and securely,” Barkat said in a statement on Tuesday.
The PFLP-GC — not to be confused with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which it split off from in 1968 — was responsible for a number of vicious terror attacks in Israel in the 1970s and 1980s, including one against a school bus in northern Israel, which killed nine children and three adults.
The PFLP-GC largely went underground in the late 1980s, working behind the scenes with the Lebanon-based Hezbollah terror group, but it reemerged in 2011 with the outbreak of the Syrian civil war.