Two Arab Israelis indicted for trying to join Syrian jihadists
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Two Arab Israelis indicted for trying to join Syrian jihadists

The pair allegedly flew to Istanbul in March 2016 seeking training from Islamic State and Nusra Front, intending to return to Israel and commit terror attacks

File: An undated photo of fighters from al-Qaeda's branch in Syria, the al-Nusra Front, marching toward the northern village of al-Ais in Aleppo province. (Al-Nusra Front via AP)
File: An undated photo of fighters from al-Qaeda's branch in Syria, the al-Nusra Front, marching toward the northern village of al-Ais in Aleppo province. (Al-Nusra Front via AP)

Two Jaffa residents were indicted Thursday for allegedly attempting to join jihadist groups in Syria in order to receive training that would enable them to carry out terror attacks upon their return to Israel.

The two, Abed al-Malek Asfur and Adam Abu-Shahada, face terrorism charges over their 2016 trip to Istanbul in a bid to join the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front, one of the jihadist rebel groups still fighting the forces of the Assad regime in the Syrian civil war.

According to the indictment, filed Thursday in the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court, Asfur became interested in Islamic State and al-Nusra in 2013. He made the decision to join al-Nusra in late 2015. In early 2016, he contacted a jihadist operative on Twitter who directed him to another man on the Telegram network.

Asfur made contact with the Nusra pointman, then appealed to his friend Abu-Shahada to join him. Abu-Shahada agreed.

The two flew to Istanbul in March 2016 carrying NIS 25,000 ($6,850) in cash. Abu-Shahada declared at the airport he was heading to Istanbul to research academic study opportunities in the city.

Once in Istanbul, the indictment says, the two purchased warm clothing and sneakers in preparation for the military training they believed they would undergo in Syria. They contacted the Nusra pointman, who promised to contact them within a short time. After many days passed, and their contact failed to respond to several attempts to contact him, Asfur and Abu-Shahada concluded their contact had become unavailable.

The two returned to Israel.

The indictment carries multiple charges, including attempting to travel from Israel to Syria, which is illegal under Israel’s “enemy states” law. It also charges Abu-Shahada with lying to the authorities in his declaration at Ben Gurion Airport about seeking to study in Istanbul.

Comparatively few Arab Israelis have joined jihadist groups in Syria in recent years, with the Islamic State group the most popular among them. But the Shin Bet security service has said it views the possibility of Israeli citizens joining IS to be a “serious security threat.” A few dozen Israeli Arabs from northern Israel have been arrested for alleged links with IS in recent years. Roughly 20 are now believed to be among its ranks in Syria and Iraq.

In April, prosecutors indicted an Arab Israeli teenager who confessed to trying to join IS, attempting to recruit others, and declaring his willingness to carry out a suicide bombing or drive-by shooting attack on Israeli soldiers near the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv.

Charges were filed against Kamel Abu Amarah, 19, from Jaffa, for contacting an enemy agent as well as membership in a terror group and activities on its behalf, the Justice Ministry said.

Documents submitted to the Tel Aviv District Court claimed Abu Amarah voluntarily joined the organization by sending IS operatives a video of himself pledging allegiance to its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

He is also accused of actively working on behalf of the terrorist group as well as trying to recruit more members, including a member of his family and a friend. In addition, prosecutors said, he tried to buy a pistol through an acquaintance he believed had criminal contacts.

In March, an Arab Israeli man was sentenced to 28 months in prison for trying to join Islamic State.

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