A Hamas plan to carry out terrorist attacks in Israeli cities has been thwarted, the Shin Bet security agency revealed 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, the Shin Bet said.
”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’ 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, 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. This is why we will continue to maintain security control of all areas west of the Jordan River.”