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Would-be Arab Israeli jihadist’s Syria trip foiled by his mother taking passport

Ahmad Sarsour allegedly aimed to join anti-regime fighters, tried to arrange killing of Dutch activist who organized Prophet Mohammed art contest, and wanted to stab Jews

Members of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham group, led by Syria's former Al-Qaeda affiliate, have their picture taken in front of a convoy of buses getting ready to enter the towns of Fuaa and Kefraya, in Syria, to evacuate their residents on July 18, 2018. (AFP Photo/Omar Haj Kadour)
Members of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham group, led by Syria's former Al-Qaeda affiliate, have their picture taken in front of a convoy of buses getting ready to enter the towns of Fuaa and Kefraya, in Syria, to evacuate their residents on July 18, 2018. (AFP Photo/Omar Haj Kadour)

State prosecutors on Sunday filed an indictment against an Arab Israeli man who had planned to join jihadist anti-regime terror groups in Syria but was prevented from doing so by his mother who took away his passport, the Justice Ministry said in a statement Monday.

In addition to his failed move to Syria, Ahmad Sarsour, 20, from the northern Arab town of Kafr Qassem, also planned to carry out a stabbing attack against Jews in Jerusalem but was talked out of it by an acquaintance, prosecutors said.

Other activities included failed attempts to obtain a sniper rifle, explosives and rocket fuel via the internet. He did, however, manage to buy a knife online which he planned to use in the stabbing attack.

Sarsour is accused of trafficking offenses, manufacturing and importing a knife, attempted illegal travel abroad, funding terror and obstructing justice as well as other offenses, according to the indictments filed Sunday at the Central District Court.

“The defendant, over a long period of time, expressed identification and support for terror groups, expressed a strong desire to leave for Syria for the purposes of jihad, took an intense interest in weapons and explosives, and was even in contact with declared terror organizations,” according to the court papers.

During 2017-2018 and up until his arrest, Sarsour was in contact with activists and supporters of terror organizations and jihad organizations, via the WhatsApp, Facebook and Telegram apps, prosecutors charged.

View of the Israeli-Arab town of Kafr Qassem, near Tel Aviv. July 02, 2013. (Moshe Shai/FLASH90)

Sarsour allegedly contacted a member of the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham group in Syria, and gave him money on different occasions. In 2017 he planned to leave for Syria and join one of the jihadist groups fighting against the Syrian regime. He bought a ticket from Israel to Turkey on November 7, 2017, and arranged with that activist to illegally cross the border into Syria. The night before he was due to travel his mother found out about his intentions and stopped him from going to the airport, even taking away his passport.

He is also accused of contacting an al-Qaeda supporter over the internet and asking him to help coordinate the assassination of a Dutch political activist who in 2018 organized an Prophet Mohammed art contest. Under Islamic law, it is forbidden to make images of the Prophet Mohammed.

During 2017-2018 Sarsour allegedly surfed websites supporting terror and those offering services to purchase weapons, explosives and other means to prepare weapons.

He tried to buy potassium to make rockets, even paying a seller who then responded that potassium can’t be sent to Israel. He also looked into buying a $14,000 sniper rifle, prosecutors said.

Two Muslim worshipers seen next to the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in the Old City of Jerusalem, on November 07, 2016.(Sebi Berens/Flash90)

According to an additional indictment in 2015 Sarsour decided to carry out a stabbing attack against Jews, the Justice Ministry statement said. He bought a knife for that purpose over the internet and then took it along as he prayed at the Al-Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem ahead of carrying out the attack. However, an acquaintance persuaded him to not carry out the plan.

On October 21, security forces arrived to arrest him at home at which point Sarsour tried to delete the Facebook app from his cellphone.

The indictment noted that Sarour’s actions “point to an extremist ideology which is expressed in a tendency to carry out active terror actions and so there is a reasonable concern that the defendant will endanger public safety.”

Prosecutors asked that he be held until the end of proceedings.

Last month two Jaffa residents were indicted 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.

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

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