A large-scale Hamas terrorist formation in the West Bank and Jerusalem planned to destabilize the region through a series of deadly terrorist attacks in Israel and then topple the Fatah-ruled Palestinian Authority, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) said Monday.
The Shin Bet announcement was a follow to The Jerusalem Post first exclusively breaking the story regarding the busting and indicting of Hamas's West Bank leader, dozens of his operatives and a massive plot to recreate Hamas's West Bank infrastructure on August 7.
The plot was orchestrated by overseas Hamas operatives headquartered in Turkey and centered on a string of mass-casualty terrorist attacks on Israeli targets, the Shin Bet added.
The end goal was to destabilize the Palestinian territories and use the instability to carry out a military coup, overthrowing the government of PA President Mahmoud Abbas.
The Hamas infrastructure relied on support from cells in neighboring Jordan and on couriers who delivered funding that totaled at least NIS 2 million.
This was used to purchase weapons and homes that were used as hideouts, according to the investigation.
There are 93 Hamas members in Israeli custody, of whom 46 have been questioned by the Shin Bet so far. Security forces plan to indict some 70 suspects.
The investigation began in May and is ongoing, security sources said.
Approximately $600,000 has been seized by the Shin Bet, as well as 30 firearms, seven rocket launchers, and large amounts of ammunition. Security sources stressed that the plot was uncovered at an early stage.
The Shin Bet named senior Hamas leader Salah al-Aruri, who is based in Turkey, as the mastermind behind the terrorist plot.
Aruri, originally from the village of Arura near Ramallah, spent years in prison for terrorism offenses and left the region in March 2010, as part of an agreement with Israel.
He has since served as the head of the West Bank sector in Hamas’s overseas wing.
According to the investigation, the plot began in 2010, as Aruri was driven to the Allenby Bridge border crossing after agreeing to leave, following his release from prison.
In the car, Aruri recruited his driver, Riad Nasser, another senior Hamas West Bank figure, the Shin Bet added.
Nasser, a resident of the Palestinian village of Dir Kadis, near Ramallah, was allegedly appointed by Aruri as the local commander of the entire West Bank Hamas infrastructure.
Nasser served multiple prison sentences for terrorist offenses in previous years and was taken into administrative detention in December 2013.
The Shin Bet began questioning him on May 27 over his alleged involvement in the setting up of large numbers of terrorist cells.
“This infrastructure stretched from Jenin in the North to Hebron in the South.
It is one of the biggest we’ve seen in Judea and Samaria since Hamas’s formation in 1987,” a senior Shin Bet source, responsible for securing the Jerusalem district, told reporters on Monday. “They planned to carry out a coup and topple the Palestinian Authority,” he added.
A second Shin Bet source said the investigation serves as a warning over Hamas’s designs to replace the PA.
The infrastructure’s local nerve center was in Ramallah, where the PA is based, but cells branched out throughout 46 Palestinian cities, towns, and villages.
Khaled Mashaal, Hamas’s overseas leader in Qatar, was aware of the plot, the sources said, though there was no involvement from Hamas in Gaza.
“The terrorists planned to undermine security and launch a third intifada. They planned disturbances on the Temple Mount to rile the Palestinian masses. They were waiting for talks between Israel and PA to collapse,” the source said.
During questioning, Nasser allegedly said all of the operatives worked according to a plan devised by Aruri, designed to lead to a collapse of the PA’s rule.
Aruri’s plan intended to carry out a number of major terrorist attacks in Israel, to cause sufficient instability to facilitate a Hamas coup.
Hamas recruited many members, including students and academics, particularly those studying chemistry and engineering.
The terrorist cells allegedly kept in contact with Hamas members in Jordan, including Uda Zaharan, who originally hails from the village of Deir Abu Mash’al in the West Bank, and who moved to Zarka, Jordan, in 2006. Zaharan maintained a system of couriers connecting various Hamas branches in Turkey, Jordan, and the West Bank and transferred hundreds of thousands of dollars via multiple smuggling runs to operatives in the West Bank.
Additional suspects in custody include Majdi Mafarja, from the Palestinian town of Beit Likya, who holds a doctorate in computing. Security sources described Mafarja as representative of “a new generation of Hamas members,” adding that he is “highly intelligent” and fluent in computer programing.
Hamas sent Mafarja to Malaysia, where he trained in message encryption and computer hacking, the Shin Bet said. He was arrested on May 22.
Saleh Brakat, an Israeli citizen from Beit Safafa in southern Jerusalem, was arrested on July 1 for allegedly transferring operational messages from Hamas in Jerusalem to members of the terrorist organization who were overseas.
Brakat is active in Hamas’s Da’wa system, a civilian outreach network that offers social services to Palestinians.
Mahmoud Abu Daoud, of Hebron, was arrested on July 1 on suspicion of setting up terrorist cells that specialized in various attacks. He allegedly set up cells for kidnappings, bombings, and shooting attacks.
Muhammad Kafia, a resident of Beitunya, near Ramallah, heads a Hamas student cell at Abu Dis University. He was arrested on June 27 in possession of 19 automatic rifles and five handguns, security forces said.
Yahya Ata, another resident of Deir Abu Mash’al, was arrested on June 28 on suspicion of being recruited by Aruri to set up a terrorist cell.
“The exposure of this infrastructure, one of the largest we have encountered, underlines the high danger posed by Hamas’s overseas headquarters,” the Shin Bet said in a statement.
The investigation uncovered deep ties between Hamas operatives in Turkey and operatives in Judea and Samaria, as well as Hamas’s strategy to topple the PA, it added.
Some of the planned attacks were meant to take place in recent weeks, during the war with Hamas in Gaza, to open a second front of fighting, the intelligence agency added.
Deputy Minister for Liaison with the Knesset Ofir Akunis said that Hamas’ attempt at a coup shows that the Palestinian Authority would not be able to control Gaza.
“This is a warning sign that sharpens our understanding that we cannot let the Left’s dreams turn into everyone’s nightmare,” Akunis said. “This is further proof that the Palestinian unity government was a terrorist government meant to give Hamas legitimization on the way to expand its terrorist nests.”
Akunis called for the Left to “wake up from its dreams about Palestinian unity leading to regional peace” and understand that Hamas seeks to harm Israel and its citizens.
Knesset Finance Committee chairman Nissan Slomiansky (Bayit Yehudi) said that “Israeli security cannot be left to the Palestinian Authority.”
Slomiansky also called for the Left to “wake up from its dreams,” adding that “only a continuous [Israeli] military and civilian presence in Judea and Samaria will prevent the Dan region from being in the line of fire from Judea and Samaria.”
Lahav Harkov contributed to this story.