Jerusalem: Israel's internal security agency Shin Bet yesterday said the agency has arrested three Palestinians, two of them residents of East Jerusalem with Israeli identification cards, for an alleged involvement in an Al Qaeda plot to carry out terror attacks.
The group had planned attacks at the International Convention Center here and the United States embassy in Tel Aviv, it said. The three men were allegedly arrested on December 25 but the agency's announcement followed the lifting of a gag order on the case by Jerusalem Magistrate's Court.
About four months ago, a Gaza operator, who works under the Salafist alias Arib al-Sham, enlisted the three men, Iyad Abu Sa'ara, 24, of East Jerusalem's Ras al-Khamis neighbourhood, Roubeen al-Najma, 31, of Abu Tor in East Jerusalem and Alaa Ranem, 22, of Al-Aqaba, a village near Jenin, the agency claimed. Arib al-Sham allegedly told the three recruits that he worked for Ayman al-Zawahiri, who took over the leadership of Al Qaeda after the Americans killed Osama bin Laden in May 2011.
The security agency believes that their enlistment and deployment was conducted via internet without anyone of the three knowing about the other's existence or their orders.
Abu Sa'ara is said to have admitted during interrogation that he received instructions to carry out a large-scale terror attack and that he had also begun learning the tenets of Salafism.
His father had apparently noticed his new-found interest in radical Islam and had tried to dissuade him, it said.
Meanwhile, US State Department officials are said to have acknowledged reports of the Al Qaeda plot targeting the US embassy in Tel Aviv saying Washington is "closely following the situation" and has been in touch with the Israeli government.
"The US embassy routinely employs a range of measures to safeguard US citizens and all of our employees and their dependents," the State Department official told the Jerusalem Post.
"We have a high degree of confidence in our own security staff and in the Israeli security forces," the newspaper quoted the official. The Shin Bet has claimed that "the phenomena of international jihad and Al Qaeda is now in its infancy in the West Bank, after having already garnered hundreds of operatives in Gaza".
"Together with the Palestinian Authority we can stop it" from spreading in the West Bank, the agency said.