Taibe man charged with traveling to Syria to join anti-Assad jihad

Man’s lawyer says his client traveled to Syria to bring medical supplies, fled within 48 hours “when he realized he wasn’t Rambo.”

Altaleh 370 (photo credit: Courtesy Shin Bet)
Altaleh 370
(photo credit: Courtesy Shin Bet)
The Shin Bet and Central District police arrested a Taiba man last month they say traveled to Syria to join jihadist groups fighting against the Syrian army, it was cleared for publication on Wednesday.
Afif Abdel Kader Altaleh, 26, was indicted two weeks ago in the Central District Court in Lod on charges of contacting a foreign agent and illegally entering Syria.
Altaleh was studying pharmacology in Jordan and decided to travel to Syria, according to the indictment. He had met Palestinian, Iraqi and Jordanian students who support the jihadist groups fighting in Syria and he started to become more religious and more drawn to the Salafist ideology, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) said.
On July 7, Altaleh decided to travel to Syria to join the al-Qaida-affiliated rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra, and met with a Salafi man named Hamam who gave him the name of a man to contact in Syria named Abu Anas, according to the indictment.
The next day, he flew from Amman to Istanbul and then Antakya in southeastern Turkey, where he crossed into Syria by foot, the indictment states. He made his way to a rebel checkpoint, where he gave them the name of his contact and asked to be taken to an officer in charge. He was taken to a rebel house and met a man named Abu Rahman, and spent the next three days with him, before flying back to Istanbul and then Israel. On July 14, Altaleh arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport, where he was arrested.
Altaleh confessed to traveling to Syria to join the jihad against the Syrian army, and he linked up with fighters from Jabhat al- Nusra, the Shin Bet said.
On Wednesday, the Shin Bet repeated its warning that “the phenomenon of Israeli Arabs traveling to Syria has the potential for great danger. This is due to the fact that in Syria they will be exposed to elements hostile to the State of Israel, in particular ‘global jihadis.’” Radical groups in Syria may try to recruit Israeli Arabs to gather intelligence on Israeli targets or to commit terrorist attacks, the agency said.
Altaleh’s lawyer, Menachem Rubinstein, presented a different picture of his client, calling him a “good kid” who traveled to Syria to bring medical supplies to people in need, and quickly found he had made a mistake.
“He went there to bring them medical supplies and spent two days in some guesthouse where they got shelled. Then he realized he wasn’t Rambo and he ran away and took a cab all the way to the border,” Rubinstein told The Jerusalem Post from his office in Tel Aviv on Wednesday.
Altaleh left for Syria without telling his parents, and when they hadn’t heard from him for a couple of days they checked his credit card receipts and saw he’d charged tickets to Istanbul and Antakya, Rubinstein said. They contacted the Foreign Ministry’s situation room and asking for help, the lawyer said. The ministry contacted the Shin Bet, which had officers waiting for Altaleh at Ben-Gurion Airport. They also arrested his father, who traveled to Antakya to meet his son and fly back with him. The father was questioned but not charged, the lawyer added.
Rubinstein said he was looking forward to the next hearing, in early September, when he hopes to reach a plea bargain with the prosecution. His client will gladly plead guilty to the infiltrating Syria charge, but not to contact with a foreign agent, he said.
“They don’t even know who this supposed foreign agent is. This kid wasn’t a fighter, he didn’t go there to fight and he wouldn’t know how to fight even if he wanted to.”
The case is similar to that of another man from Taiba, in the Triangle, west of Kfar Saba, who was indicted in April for traveling to Syria, also allegedly to join jihadist fighters there. Central District prosecutors charged Hikmat Masarwah with contact with a foreign agent, illegal military training and traveling to an enemy state.
His family maintains that he only went to Syria to look for his younger brother Hussein, who is missing and believed to be in the country. He was also only there for a short period, in his case for seven days.