The Shin Bet domestic intelligence agency announced Wednesday it captured a large-scale Hamas terrorist cell based in the Abu Dis area near Jerusalem that had been plotting bombings and suicide- bombing attacks in Israel and the territories.
Had the attacks not been thwarted, they could have led to mass-casualty attacks and dangerously escalated the security situation, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) warned in a statement.
Security forces, including the IDF and Israel Police, arrested 25 Hamas operatives, most of them students at Al-Quds University in Abu Dis.
During questioning, it emerged that the cell was led by Ahmed Azam, a 24-yearold Palestinian from the Kalkilya area, the Shin Bet said.
Azam himself was recruited by Hamas in Gaza “to set up a military infrastructure that would carry out bombing attacks against Israeli targets,” the intelligence agency stated.
Azam “was in continuous contact with his operators in the Gaza Strip, who trained him to be an explosives expert for the purpose of manufacturing explosive vests and bombs,” the Shin Bet said.
“In accordance with instructions passed on to Azam, he recruited a number of additional operatives studying with him at Al-Quds University, in order to purchase material to manufacture explosives, rent apartments, recruit suicide bombers and get them to infiltrate Israel,” it added.
In recent days, Shin Bet investigators uncovered an explosives lab in an apartment rented by Azam in Abu Dis.
“An examination of the lab found that it was ready to manufacture explosives of different types in significant quantities,” the Shin Bet said.
Raw materials that are banned for sale were seized, and additional suspects involved in their sale were arrested in the course of the investigation. Some of the bomb-making materials were purchased in stores in Israel and Ramallah.
The cell included two Abu Dis students, one of them a resident of Jerusalem’s Old City – 22-year-old Hazam Sanduka, who the Shin Bet said planned to exploit his freedom of movement in Israel to carry out terrorism.
According to the security agency, he purchased materials and gathered intelligence on potential targets for attack, as well as for moving terrorists to within the Green Line.
The suspects also include a 19-year-old Israeli Beduin, Fahdi Kian, a resident of Hura in the Negev, who confessed to agreeing in October 2015 to a suggestion by Azam to carry out a terrorist attack within the Green Line using either a suicide bomb vest or a car bomb.
Sanduka and Kian told the Shin Bet they also support ISIS and operated in local Salafi circles, in addition to their Hamas cell activities.
Another Hamas cell operating in the Bethlehem area was uncovered in the investigation, as well.
The Shin Bet said some of its members studied at Al-Quds University and were recruited as suicide bombers. Suspects include Aisa Shuka, a 19-year-old resident of Bethlehem, who agreed to become a suicide bomber, and helped transfer funds from the Gaza Strip. Shuka also helped recruit two other Bethlehem residents for suicide bombings planned in Jerusalem.
“This episode uncovered and reiterates the involvement of Hamas’s military wing in Gaza and its consistent actions to orchestrate mass casualty terrorist attacks in Israel and Judea and Samaria,” the Shin Bet said.
The cell points to “an increased effort at this time to exploit the escalation of incidents in Judea and Samaria to promote bombings and suicide bombings against targets in Israel and Judea and Samaria,” the agency added.
“The wave of terrorist attacks planned by Hamas shows that it, under the leadership of its military wing, is ignoring the major distress of the Gazan population and the attempts by many elements to rehabilitate Gaza.”
Had the attacks gone ahead, Israel would have suffered many casualties, and the region would have entered a “significant escalation of the security situation,” the Shin Bet said.