The takedown of an Al Qaeda cell that officials say planned to attack the American Embassy in Tel Aviv has laid bare the threat Israel faces from the world’s most infamous terrorist network as it becomes more dominant in the Sinai Peninsula and the Palestinian territories, say security experts.
Never before has Al Qaeda specifically sought to carry out a terrorist attack on Israeli soil, but in a sign that confidence is high amongst the international network and its affiliates after notable successes of late in Iraq and neighboring Syria, the foiling of a potentially horrific multiple attack inside Israel suggests the Al Qaeda hierarchy has now set itself a new goal.
Three radicalized, locally-grown terrorists, whose chain of command stretched all the way up to Al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri, planned to stage simultaneous suicide bombings of both the International Conference Center in Jerusalem and the U.S. Embassy. The terrorists planned to strike the Jerusalem target again once emergency services arrived. Israeli security agency Shin Bet said there were additional plans for bus attacks, shootings and kidnappings in the pipeline.
Israel has long dealt with enemy jihadists from Hamas, in the Gaza Strip, and Fatah, in the West Bank. But the aggressive emergence of Al Qaeda attempting to strike within the Jewish state is seen as an extremely troubling development.
It is not clear how close the terror cell was to carrying out the plot, but Shin Bet sources said the men had been recruited online by a notorious Gaza-based operative, Arib a-Shaham, who answers directly to al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian-born successor to Usama Bin Laden. Demonstrating Al Qaeda’s links between the two Palestinian territories, a-Shaham in Gaza recruited the three would-be West Bank terrorists, unaware that the Shin Bet was monitoring their traffic on both Facebook and Skype.
Of particular concern to Israel security services is the fact that the three key members of the plot had joined Al Qaeda soon after becoming radicalized online, choosing to fight for that cause rather than support either Hamas and Fatah. Last week, Israel’s Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center revealed that some 20 Arab Israelis and 30 Palestinians have been fighting for Al Qaeda-linked militias in Syria.
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