The Jerusalem District Attorney’s Office on Tuesday filed two indictments against two members of an al-Qaida cell for allegedly planning bombings of the Jerusalem International Convention Center, a bus traveling between the capital and Ma’aleh Adumim and the US Embassy in Tel Aviv.
The two east Jerusalem Palestinians, Iyad Khalil Abu-Sara, 23 of Shuafat – who has an Israeli ID card – and Rubin Abu-Nagma, 30 of Abu-Tor, were allegedly recruited by an al-Qaida operative in Gaza known as “Abu Hamza.”
Abu-Sara was accused of contact with a foreign agent, conspiracy to commit a felony and supporting a terror group.
Abu-Nagma was accused of conspiracy to commit a felony, making and possessing a weapon, incitement and other offenses. The indictments did not connect him directly to Abu Hamza, though the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) questioned him regarding possible connections.
Al-Anam, a third suspect, from Jenin, also confessed to being in Internet communication with Abu Hamza, and plotting to set up a Salafi-jihadi cell in Samaria for the purpose of carrying out terrorist attacks, according to the Shin Bet.
The indictments did not mention Al-Anam, who as a resident of Jenin, will likely be indicted in the IDF West Bank Military Courts.
The Shin Bet said Abu Hamza intended to build separate and independent cells around some of the defendants, and he received his orders directly from the head of al-Qaida, Ayman al-Zawahiri.
The indictments said that using Skype and Facebook, Abu Hamza was able to recruit Abu-Sara in October-November 2013.
During questioning, Abu- Sara, who was arrested on December 25, admitted to volunteering to carry out a “sacrifice attack” on an Israeli bus traveling between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim, added the Shin Bet.
According to the Shin Bet’s investigation, Abu-Sara also volunteered to help orchestrate a simultaneous double suicide- bombing at the Jerusalem International Convention Center and the US Embassy in Tel Aviv. Subsequently, Abu- Sara planned to detonate a suicide truck bomb in the vicinity of emergency responders arriving at the convention center.
Abu-Sara received computer files containing virtual training courses on bomb manufacturing from Abu Hamza in Gaza, the Shin Bet added.
Security forces monitored communications between Abu-Sara and Abu Hamza, observing how the latter asked his recruit which targets he had access to. After he suggested various targets, Abu Hamza would direct the conversation toward the operational aspects of attacks.
The Shin Bet said that Abu-Nagma confessed to plotting to kidnap a soldier from the Jerusalem Central Bus Station, in addition to bombing a building housing Israeli Jews in the Abu Tor neighborhood of Jerusalem. It added that during questioning, he described how he learned to manufacture bombs online.
Though he was indicted for the kidnapping plot, which he started planning with others in July 2013, and for several incidents in which he and three others attacked Jewish cars as well as a security guard with incendiary devices, he was not indicted for the bombing plot.
Security sources spoke with concern about the swift recruitment process and preparations that took place online in the space of a few months. They added that Abu-Sara’s father was opposed to his son’s activities and warned him repeatedly after seeing his son surfing radical Islamist websites.
“Abu-Sara and al-Abu Hamza coordinated a trip to Syria and money transfers. This all happened very quickly,” said a source. “All three terrorist channels formed at a fast rate.”
The plots were disrupted at a relatively early stage, the source stated. They are evidence of the fact that the Gaza Strip is a terrorism base for al-Qaida-affiliated elements, in addition to Hamas and Islamic Jihad, he said. Hundreds of Salafi-jihadi in Gaza have access to rockets and arms, and travel to Sinai to attack both Egypt and Israel, the source explained. Hamas has reached an understanding with these elements, according to which they must not directly harm Hamas by provoking an Israeli response, but are otherwise free to act as they please.
There have been no recent arrests by Hamas of Salafi-jihadis in Gaza. Rather, Hamas engages with these groups by deploying its own forces to rocket-launching grounds to prevent attacks on Israel, and through dialogue with al-Qaida- affiliated elements. Outside Gaza, Hamas supports global jihad activities in Syria and in the Sinai Peninsula, the source continued.
Meanwhile, a US State Department official acknowledged last Wednesday reports of an al-Qaida plot targeting the American Embassy in Tel Aviv, telling The Jerusalem Post that the US is “closely following the situation” and has been in touch with the Israeli government concerning the matter.
“The US Embassy routinely employs a range of measures to safeguard US citizens and all of our employees and their dependents,” the State Department official said. “We have a high degree of confidence in our own security staff and in the Israeli security forces.”
Yaakov Lappin and Michael Wilner contributed to this report.