The Islamic Jihad cell behind the bombing of a Bat Yam bus last month was days away from striking again in the Tel Aviv area, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) has found, after arresting and questioning its members.

Fourteen suspects – four terrorists and 10 suspected abettors – were nabbed last week by security forces in Bethlehem, and explosives were seized.

Security sources told to The Jerusalem Post that the cell appears to have been locally formed, but that the next stage of the investigation will seek to determine whether an Iranian influence played a part in orchestrating the bombing.

Of all the armed Palestinian factions, Islamic Jihad is the closest to Tehran, and it has benefited from Iranian weapons, training and funds for many years. The Shin Bet has focused the first part of its investigation on the local terrorist infrastructure that gave rise to the bombing.

On December 22, a bomb in a bag tore through an empty bus in Bat Yam, moments after passengers and the driver evacuated it upon noticing the suspicious object. A police sapper was lightly wounded.

Security forces said on Thursday that following intensive intelligence efforts, backed by police and IDF, the Shin Bet arrested four members of a terrorist cell led by brothers Shahada Muhammad Ta’amri, 24, a former security prisoner, and Hamdi Muhammad Ta’amri, 21, a Palestinian Authority policeman who was in a commanders’ training course.

Two additional members have been named as Sami Harimi, 20, who illegally worked at a Jaffa restaurant, and Yousef Salame, 22. Ten Palestinians are under arrest for being linked to cell’s activities.

The terrorists decided to carry out a mass-casualty attack in Israel in recent months, the Shin Bet found in its investigation. The bomb placed on the bus, made up of 2 kg. of improvised explosives, nails, screws and an activation mechanism attached to a cellphone, was created by the Ta’amri brothers, the Shin Bet said.

Sami Harimi then received the explosive in a black bag, which he took on the morning of December 12 to the South Hebron Hills with other Palestinians seeking to enter Israel illegally. They though a gap in the West Bank security barrier in the Eshkolot area north of Beersheba.

Once in Israel, Harimi entered a vehicle driven by an Israeli Beduin who regularly transports illegal Palestinians, and drove to Jaffa. There he prayed in a mosque and boarded the No. 240 bus, operated by the Dan transport company.

He left the bag in the middle of the bus and got off at the next station. After a few minutes, he activated the bomb by calling the phone attached to the explosive.

Harimi was arrested four days after the attack, on December 26, in Bethlehem.

He informed the Shin Bet of plans to carry out another major bombing in the Tel Aviv-Jaffa area in the coming days, but the plot was disrupted by the arrest of the terrorist cell.

Hamdi Ta’amri led investigators to a large bomb weighing 20 kg. hidden near his Bethlehem home.

“The investigation is still ongoing,” the Shin Bet said. “More arrests are expected.”

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