Hebrew U. students not surprised by al-Qaida arrests

Joint operation of the police and Shin Bet netted six suspects altogether; peers cite an "atmosphere of radicalism" on campus.

hebrew university 224.88 (photo credit: Hebrew University )
hebrew university 224.88
(photo credit: Hebrew University )
After two students from Hebrew University's Givat Ram campus were indicted for their suspected ties to the al-Qaida terrorist organization on Friday, fellow students said they weren't surprised by the news, citing an "atmosphere of radicalism" on campus that paved the way for such activity. The joint operation of the police and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) netted six suspects altogether, four of whom are east Jerusalem residents. The other two students, Ibrahim Nashef and Muhammad Najem, are Israeli Arabs from Taiba and Nazareth, respectively. All of the suspects were charged with membership in a terrorist organization, and some of them will be tried for aiding the enemy in a time of war, possessing propaganda material supporting a terror organization and soliciting and attempting to solicit others to join a terror organization. According to the indictments filed against them on Friday, the six would often meet at the Aksa Mosque in Jerusalem. They surfed al-Qaida Web sites featuring radical Islamic content, where they also found instructions on how to build explosive devices. "There are a lot of radical students here," said one man at the Givat Ram campus, who gave his name as Giuliani. "There are protests and political rallies for radical groups all the time, so I'm not surprised at all that these guys were involved with a terrorist group." Giuliani also said that he had shared a class with one of the suspects and knew the others, and that they often kept to themselves. "They were quiet," he said. "They didn't interact much with the other students. Even during class, they didn't talk much, but if you ask me, what they did, it's like spitting in the well you drink from." Still, many on the campus, students and staff alike, said they knew little of the men or their plans, which included a plot to attack US President George W. Bush's helicopter during his visit in May. "No one here is talking about it," said one science professor. "We heard about it on the news, otherwise we would have had no idea." Another man, Eli, a guard at the nearby Botanical Gardens, said that police had come at night and arrested the men quietly. "It was all very secretive," he said. "Nobody knew a thing. But when the news came out, it all made sense. They use the stadium here for helicopter landings sometimes, and apparently [the suspects] lived nearby, and were watching it." According to police, one of the men did, in fact, live in a dorm near the stadium and had taken photographs of helicopters landing and taking off. Police said he had also searched the Internet for instructions on how to shoot a helicopter down. Across town, at the Hebrew University's Mount Scopus campus, which houses the humanities and social sciences faculties, the student body's reaction was mixed. One student, Manar Abu Dahad, said she hadn't heard about the case, but it worried her nonetheless. "It makes me very uncomfortable," said Abu Dahad, who hosts a joint Jewish-Arab forum in the food court on campus to try and bring the two sides closer together. "I don't agree with radicalism at all. I am from Lod, where Arabs and Jews have lived together for a long time. Maybe because many of them were from east Jerusalem, which is not mixed, they were able to carry on with their radical ideas." Nearby, a group of students huddled around a booth announcing "Palestinian Heritage Day" expressed doubt as to the validity of the case, saying the government had probably made up the charges. "They were set up," said one girl, her hijab pulled tightly against her head. Al-Qaida is too big for [those students] anyways, there's no way it's true. You can never trust the state." Another girl chimed in, saying the charges had been trumped up to keep the students from their studies, in which they were successful. But Tamar, another student at the Mount Scopus campus, said radicalism on that campus was worse than at Givat Ram. "There's a large Arab student body here," she said. "At the beginning of the year, they held a large protest against the [IDF's] blockade of Gaza. They were out there with keffiyehs on, shouting and antagonizing the Jewish students. When the Jewish students responded, it got violent. Things have been quiet since then, but we know [the radicalism] is there." Nearly two weeks ago, two residents of the Beduin community of Rahat in southern Israel were indicted for alleged membership in al-Qaida. Taher and Omar Abu Sakut, who are registered members of the Islamic Movement, were arrested in June following a joint operation by the Shin Bet, Israel Police and Border Police.