Shin Bet nabs Israeli who joined Syrian rebels

Taiba resident linked up with anti-Assad jihadi group, was asked about Dimona nuclear plant and IDF weapons, security forces say.

Syrian opposition fighter (photo credit: REUTERS/Ward Al-Keswani)
Syrian opposition fighter
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ward Al-Keswani)
Security forces arrested an Israeli Arab resident of Taiba on suspicion of fighting with rebels in Syria against the regime of President Bashar Assad, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) announced on Wednesday.
The suspect, named as 29- year-old Hichmat Masarwa, was arrested on March 19 by the Shin Bet and Israel Police upon returning from Turkey, after suspicions emerged that he had joined global jihadi groups in Syria and had tried to locate his brother, who traveled to Syria in recent months to fight with the rebels as well.
The Central District Attorney’s Office on Wednesday filed an indictment in the Lod District Court against Masarwa charging him with contact with a foreign agent, unlawful military training and leaving the country illegally.
Masarwa flew from Israel to Turkey on March 3, with the goal of eventually joining up with the Syrian rebels, the document stated. Masarwa then crossed from Turkey into Syria illegally on March 11.
“In Syria, Masarwa underwent military training with rebel forces... including weapons training. He was offered the possibility of carrying out a suicide bombing against the army of the Assad regime, but he says he refused this,” the Shin Bet said.
Rebel forces frequently questioned Masarwa about Israel and its armed forces, and he was asked about weapons in use by the IDF, as well as the nuclear power plant in Dimona, the Shin Bet said, adding that he was asked to carry out an attack in Israel, but refused this offer as well.
Despite being requested to carry out attacks in Israel and being questioned about Israeli security, Masarwa did not break contact with the rebel forces, alleged the district attorney’s office.
Only on March 17 – after Masarwa, under pressure from his family, had failed to find his brother and had decided that the groups he had met up with were not meeting his expectations in fighting the Syrian regime – did he return to Turkey from Syria, the indictment claimed.
In fact, the document said that Syrian rebels refused Masarwa’s requests to engage in live-fire exercises and only allowed him other forms of training, including weapons assembly and observing livefire exercises.
Before leaving the rebels, Masarwa took down email, Skype and Facebook information from several rebels in order to maintain contact and took pictures with a number of them, according to the indictment.
Israeli Arabs who travel to Syria are exposed to radical ideology, and could be enlisted for terrorist attacks in Israel due to their knowledge of targets in the country, security sources said, adding that this represented a serious national security issue.
The indictment emphasized in introductory paragraphs why Masarwa’s activities were problematic and dangerous.
The case may be complicated for the prosecution as Masarwa was volunteering to fight the Assad regime, a regime at war with Israel, and he refused to undertake any actions against Israel.
The indictment indicated, however, that even having contact with the rebels, which includes elements who view Israel as the enemy, could result in unintended dangers to Israeli security.
Those who contact groups fighting in Syria could give them information and, in so doing, could lead to more connections between Israeli citizens and such seditious elements.
The prosecution also requested that Masarwa be detained until the end of the proceedings.
Prosecutors argued that, since Masarwa had contacts in Syria, he would be more likely to return to the country and join them, especially to escape conviction and a prison sentence for his crimes.
Masarwa’s detention was extended temporarily until April 25, when the court is set to decide whether to keep him in custody until the end of the case.
Masarwa’s arraignment is set for May 16.