Itongadol.- The Shin Bet domestic intelligence agency announced on Wednesday that it had disrupted a large-scale Hamas terrorist cell that was based in the Abu Dis area of the West Bank, near Jerusalem, and which plotted bombings and suicide bombing attacks in Israel.
Shin Bet disrupts Hamas cell that planned suicide bombings in Israel
Had the attacks not been thwarted, they would have led to mass casualty incidents and plunged the region into a security escalation, the Shin Bet warned in a statement.
Security forces, including the IDF and Israel Police, arrested 25 Hamas operatives, most of them students at the Al Quds University campus in Abu Dis.
During questioning, it emerged that the cell was led by a 24-year-old Palestinian from the Kalkiya area, 24-year-old Ahmed Azam, the Shin Bet said. Azam himself was recruited by Hamas in Gaza "to set up a military infrastructure that would carry out bombing attacks against Israeli targets," the intelligence agency stated.
Azam "was in continuous contact with his operators in the Gaza Strip, who trained him to be an explosives expert for the purpose of manufacturing bomb vests and explosive devices," the Shin Bet said.
"In accordance with instructions passed on to Azam, he recruited a number of additional operatives studying with him at the Abu Dis University, in order to purchase material to produce explosives, rent apartments, recruit suicide bombers, and get them to infiltrate Israel," it added.
In recent days, Shin Bet investigators uncovered an explosives lab in an apartment rented by Azam in Abu Dis. "An examination of the lab found that it was ready to manufacture explosives of different types, in significant quantities," the Shin Bet said.
Some of the bomb-making materials were purchased in stores in Israel and Ramallah. Raw materials that are banned for sale were seized and additional suspects involved in their sale were arrested in the course of the investigation.
The cell included two Abu Dis students who included one resident of the Old City in Jerusalem, a 22-year-old man the Shin Bet said planned to exploit his freedom of movement in Israel. It named the suspect as Hazam Sanduka, adding that he purchased materials and gathered intelligence on potential targets for attack, as well as for moving terrorists to within the Green Line.
Suspects also include a 19-year-old Beduin Israeli citizen, Fahdi Kian, a resident of Hura in the Negev, who confessed to agreeing in October 2015 to a suggestion by Azam to carry out a terrorist attack within the Green line using either a suicide bomb belt or a car bomb.
Sanduka and Kian told the Shin Bet that they also supported ISIS, and operated in local Salafi circles in addition to their Hamas cell activities.
An additional Hamas cell operating in the Bethlehem area was uncovered in the investigation as well. The Shin Bet said some of its members studied at the Abu Dis university, and were recruited as suicide bombers. Suspects included Aisa Shuka, a 19-year-old resident of Bethlehem, who agreed to become a suicide bomber, and helped transfer funds from the Gaza Strip.
Shuka also helped recruit two other Bethlehem residents for suicide bombings planned in Jerusalem.
"This episode uncovered and reiterates the involvement of Hamas\’s military wing in Gaza and its consistent actions to orchestrate mass casualty terror attacks in Israel and Judea and Samaria," the Shin Bet said.
The cell points to "an increased effort at this time to exploit the escalation of incidents in Judea and Samaria to promote bombings and suicide bombings against targets in Israel and Judea and Samaria," the agency added.
"The wave of terrorist attacks planned by Hamas shows that it, under the leadership of its military wing, is ignoring the major distress of the Gazan population and the attempts by many elements to rehabilitate Gaza."
Had the attacks gone ahead, Israel would have suffered many casualties, and the region would have entered a "significant escalation in the security situation," the Shin Bet said.