Former Fatah’s al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade commander Zakariya Zubeidi and east Jerusalem lawyer Tareq Barghut have been indicted in the IDF West Bank Courts for multiple recent attempted terrorist attacks in which they allegedly fired on Jews in the vicinity of Ramallah in the West Bank.
Zubeidi was separately indicted for a wide range of 24 criminal charges involving murders, attempted bombings and other terrorist activities from the Second Intifada to the present.
The indictment of each man is explosive.
Zubeidi at points has been considered among the most powerful strongmen in the Palestinian Authority and was given amnesty for his role as one of the leaders of terrorism during the Second Intifada. Barghut is a well-known lawyer for Palestinians and is certified as an Israeli lawyer.
The arrest of him and his wife in February led the entire legal community defending Palestinians in the IDF West Bank Courts to strike, bringing the entire system to a halt.
While not unprecedented, it is highly unusual for Israel to arrest top Fatah officials or a lawyer for Palestinians, who are generally considered off limits.
Zubeidi, who was once considered a “symbol of the Intifada,” renounced militancy over a decade ago, and was awarded clemency by Israel after he agreed to give up arms.
A source close to Barghut indicated to The Jerusalem Post that he will not contest many of the shocking allegations of attempted shootings, but will try to reduce some of the charges and otherwise obtain a favorable plea deal by explaining the emotional strain he was under.
The announcement came from the Shin Bet (Israel security agency) on Monday that said, “Intelligence gathered by the Shin Bet pointed to the involvement of Zakariya Zubeidi and Tareq Barghut in a series of attacks in the Beit El area.”
The two were arrested on February 27 during an operation by the agency and IDF forces before a new impending attack they were planning.
Barghut has been employed as an attorney in the PA’s Ministry of Prisoner’s Affairs and there have been indications that part of what led to his arrest was internal Palestinian tensions, possibly leading to a fellow Palestinian informing on his alleged double-life as a lawyer and a terrorist.
Until Monday, colleagues of Barghut had dismissed the allegations against him as fake news being used by the occupation to persecute Palestinians.
But the indictment against Barghut told a story of a veteran lawyer who became distraught with the IDF West Bank Courts, the Israel Prisons Service and the general day-to-day treatment he witnessed Palestinian security-defendants getting from Israel, and eventually snapped in 2016 after decades as a normative lawyer.
The indictment itself has indications of already potentially reduced charges, describing firing 13 bullets at an IDF vehicle in which no one was injured as a lesser charge, instead of attempted murder.
“ZUBEIDI FLAGRANTLY and violently violated his commitment and was involved in several terrorist attacks after he agreed to cease all terrorist activities,” the Shin Bet said in a statement.
According to the statement, Zubeidi will be put on trial for all the terrorist activity in which he was involved – both from his past, for which he was given a conditional amnesty (amnesty on condition he not revert to terrorism), and for more recent activities with Barghut.
While there were injuries, no one was seriously injured by Barghut’s attacks.
The Shin Bet investigation alleges that the two carried out two shooting attacks – on November 7 and on January 5 – toward buses traveling on the road adjacent to Beit El.
The indictment stated that in the January 5 incident, bus driver Mustafa Abu Ahul was lightly injured and crashed the bus as a result of the 20 bullets shot by Barghut.
As part of their preparations for the attacks, the Shin Bet said that the defendants carried out reconnaissance of the area designated for the attack, monitored the targets for the attack, and collected information.
The agency also alleges that the two carried out another shooting attack on December 27, when they opened fire on a bus that went up to Psagot, but were unable to hit it because of the weather conditions. They also planned to carry out another attack on February 19 in the same area.
According to the Shin Bet, Barghut admitted that he carried out another shooting attack even before starting to work with Zubeidi, on November 19, 2016.
That attack was on a police car in the Zeitim crossing near Jerusalem, which caused damage but no injuries.
The indictment said that Barghut and Zubeidi carefully swapped their Palestinian license plate on their car with stolen Israeli license plates each time they traveled through Israel.
During the investigation, the M16 weapons and the magazines with which the attacks were carried out were confiscated by security forces.
“This was a serious case involving a senior official in the Palestinian Prisoners’ Ministry and an Israeli lawyer” in the same office who used a Palestinian Authority vehicle to perpetrate terror, a senior Shin Bet official said. “The intelligence and operational activities of the security forces, immediately after the attacks and in the weeks that followed... led to the exposure of the cell and the prevention of serious terrorist attacks in the future.”
Most of the wider murder and terrorism charges against Zubeidi date back to the Second Intifada.
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