Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks in Tel Aviv.
(photo credit: ARIEL HERMONI / DEFENSE MINISTRY)
A plot to assassinate Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman has been thwarted by Israel’s Shin Bet security agency.
According to a statement cleared for publication on Sunday morning, an Islamic Jihad (PIJ) terrorist cell was planning to place a bomb on a West Bank road on which Liberman’s convoy was scheduled to travel.
The investigation revealed that one cell member wanted to carry out the attack in order to be arrested so that he would receive a prisoner’s pension from Islamic Jihad.
Liberman, who lives in the West Bank settlement of Nokdim, was the target of a similar plot during Operation Protective Edge, when a Hamas cell headed by Ibrahim Salim Mahmoud Zir was broken up ahead of the attack, in which it was planned to use a rocket-propelled grenade on the vehicle in which Liberman was traveling.
The cell members were identified as 25-year-old Awad Mahmoud Awad al-Asakra and 32-year-old Muhammad Ali Ibrahim al-Asakra, both from the Bethlehem area. Awad was placed under administrative detention for two years between 2015 and 2017 for plotting to carry out an attack. Muhammad had been imprisoned by Israel twice in the past for his PIJ activity, which included being involved in preparing an explosive device and planning an attack against IDF forces.
The Shin Bet said the PIJ cell members were aware of previous failed attempts and believed they would be more successful if they planted an explosive device along the minister’s travel route.
However, they were deterred by the heavy security surrounding Liberman.
During the course of the Shin Bet investigation, it became clear that the cell members had tried to purchase explosives and had contacted a terrorist organization in the Gaza Strip to receive funding for the attack. When they failed to obtain explosive material for an actual bomb, they decided to make a dummy device instead, in hopes of getting money to carry out additional attacks and gain recognition for their work.
The fake explosive device was handed over during the arrests.
“These terrorist intentions reflect the increasing efforts of the PIJ and other terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip to escalate activity with activists in the West Bank,” read the Shin Bet statement.
The agency said the terrorists’ outreach to organizations in the Gaza Strip for funding, training and weapons “is part of an ongoing trend.” It added that the foiled plot was one of many attempts in recent months by operatives in the West Bank to promote military activity through their contacts in the Gaza Strip.
“The defense establishment will continue to act decisively to thwart this activity and warns both Hamas and the PIJ in the Gaza Strip of the implications of carrying out terrorist attacks in the West Bank under the direction or involvement of terror elements from the Gaza Strip.”
Another terrorist cell operating in the Bethlehem area – which was planning a shooting attack against IDF troops and Israeli civilians – was also broken up in a combined operation by the Shin Bet, IDF and the Israel Police.
Six suspects were arrested in total during Sunday’s operation and indictments were filed at the Military Court in the West Bank.