Israel continues to face terrorist threats from all sides, including the Hamas ruled-Gaza strip, Hizballah in southern Lebanon, and radical Sunni Jihadists in the Golan Heights and Sinai Peninsula. Now, the Jewish state is witnessing a growing al-Qaida presence in its midst. The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) announced Wednesday that three al-Qaida recruits from east Jerusalem were arrested for planning 'massive bombings' on Wednesday.
The men were preparing to engage in multiple bombing and shooting attacks on various targets such as the Jerusalem Convention Center, a bus traveling between the capital and Ma'aleh Adumim, the U.S. embassy, and the emergency responders who would have rushed in to assist the victims.
An al-Qaida operative in Gaza, Ariv Al-Sham, allegedly recruited the three men and is believed to have received direct orders from al-Qaida chief Ayman Al-Zawahiri. Using Skype and Facebook, Al-Sham was able to recruit Iyad Khalil Abu-Sara from east Jerusalem, who has an Israeli ID Card. Abu-Sara admitted to planning a "sacrifice attack" on an Israeli bus, intending to gun down the passengers at close range and firing on emergency responders. He also volunteered to facilitate a double suicide bombing simultaneously targeting the Jerusalem Convention Center and the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv. Abu-Sara purchased a flight to Turkey in order to travel into Syria for explosives training.
The elaborate plan included Abu-Sara receiving a group of foreign terrorists, using fake Russian passports, and preparing their suicide bomb vests and a truck bomb intended to harm the first responders.
Israeli security sources monitored communications between the handlers and the suspects, noting that the process of recruitment and preparations, including the transfer of bomb-making instructions, occurred online within a few months.
These developments come in context of a relatively new and rising al-Qaida threat targeting Israel. Al-Qaida linked groups in the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip have planned and coordinated various attacks against Israel. However, recently al-Qaida's presence in the West Bank has troubled Israeli officials. In January, Israel killed three gunmen linked to al-Qaida who were plotting attacks. The men were shot after opening fire at Israeli troops sent to arrest them. Senior security sources said the radical Salafi Jihadist movement remains marginal, but can grow if it exploits a power vacuum in the West Bank. The terror cell had explosives and firearms and planned to kidnap IDF soldiers and attack the Palestinian Authority. Al-Qaida's exploitation of broader regional instability is enabling the spread of its radical ideology to attract Palestinian recruits in order to attack Israel.