Syrian handler paid Hamas cell $100,000 to attack Israeli cities

Shin Bet security agency says it foiled major terrorist attacks on Israeli cities at “11th hour” after uncovering 20-member terrorist cell with “extraordinary” infrastructure in Nablus • Cell comprised mostly Hamas operatives, paid by Syria.

In the Palestinian Authority-controlled city of Nablus, Hamas supporters attend a rally marking the 30th anniversary of the terror group’s founding, Dec. 15, 2017. Credit: Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90.
In the Palestinian Authority-controlled city of Nablus, Hamas supporters attend a rally marking the 30th anniversary of the terror group’s founding, Dec. 15, 2017. Credit: Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90.

A Hamas plan to carry out terrorist attacks in ‎Israeli cities has been thwarted, the Shin Bet security ‎agency revealed on Sunday.‎

According to available details, Shin Bet agents, in collaboration with the military and police, uncovered ‎terrorist infrastructure they described as “extraordinary in its size ‎and level of activity” operating in the Nablus area in the West Bank.

According to the Shin Bet, the leader of the 20-‎member cell was paid $100,000 by a Syrian operative to target ‎major Israeli cities. ‎

The investigation so far has revealed that the cell became operational in October 2017 and ‎remained active until late April, when all 20 ‎suspects were arrested. ‎

According to the Shin Bet, most of the ‎suspects are Hamas operatives, and some have previous records that include terrorist activities, ‎especially building bombs.‎

During their interrogation, the suspects revealed ‎that they were tasked with carrying out a number of ‎known terrorist-attack attempts, including a bombing in Tel Aviv, a suicide attack in Jerusalem, an attack in the ‎Samaria community of Itamar, and several shooting ‎attacks across Judea and Samaria. ‎

The cell also enlisted the help of a Palestinian ‎‎chemistry teacher to manufacture explosives. ‎

The Shin Bet said these attacks were foiled “at the ‎11th hour.”

Security ‎forces who raided the suspects’ hideouts seized weapons and explosives, and uncovered ‎information leading to other Hamas terrorist ‎cells, according to the Shin Bet. ‎

‎“The arrests were carried out smoothly. We surprised ‎them where they least expected it in places where ‎they thought they would be safe. It was a complex ‎operation,” a Golani officer who took part in the ‎raid told Israel Hayom.‎

The Shin Bet identified the cell’s leaders as ‎Mutassem Muhammad Salem, 35, and Fares Kamil Zebidi, ‎‎33. ‎

Details of the investigation had been under a gag order that ‎was partially lifted on Sunday, when Salem and ‎Zebidi were indicted in a military court.‎

Salem is accused of acting on the orders of a Nusra ‎Front operative in Syria. The two communicated via ‎the Telegram messaging application, which allows for ‎encrypted communications.‎

According to the indictment, the Nusra Front operative offered Salem $100,000 to ‎prepare and detonate an explosive device in Israel, ‎and he agreed. ‎

‎“Discovering this cell demonstrates Hamas’s efforts ‎to establish terrorist infrastructure in Judea and ‎Samaria, as well as its constant desire to carry out ‎terrorist attacks against Israeli targets in an ‎effort to undermine the relative calm,” the Shin Bet ‎said.‎

Commented on the ‎arrests Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said “the Shin Bet security agency, ‎IDF and the Israel Police have thwarted a Hamas ‎terrorist cell that sought to carry out horrific ‎attacks in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, from Nablus in ‎Judea and Samaria. ‎

‎“Hamas is trying to attack us both from Gaza and ‎from Judea and Samaria,” he said. “This is why we will continue ‎to maintain security control of all areas west of ‎the Jordan River.”

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