Israel says it has arrested two Palestinians from East Jerusalem who were planning to carry out attacks for al-Qa’ida with the help of foreign suicide bombers posing as Russian tourists.
The men were recruited by another al-Qa’ida agent in the Gaza Strip, said Israel’s Shin Bet intelligence agency – the second Israeli report in as many months suggesting the militant network was taking root among Palestinians.
Hamas Islamists governing Gaza rejected the spy agency’s account as “silly fabrications”, saying it was an attempt to justify Israeli military strikes in the territory.
Security experts say al-Qa’ida and its global agenda have for a long time had only a only fringe appeal among Palestinians as they pursue a more nationalist conflict with the Jewish state.
The two Palestinians, who could travel freely in Israel because of their Jerusalem residency, were recruited over Facebook and Skype, Shin Bet said in a statement, which appeared to be based on confessions by the detainees.
It did not say if they had lawyers or how they might plead in open court. Civil rights groups have often accused Shin Bet of duress against terrorism suspects.
According to the agency, the Palestinians planned to provide bomb vests to foreign militants posing as Russian tourists for attacks on an Israeli convention centre in Jerusalem and the US Embassy in Tel Aviv.
The detainees were further accused of planning to kidnap a soldier and shoot at an Israeli bus in the occupied West Bank. One of the men was arrested as he prepared to travel to Syria, via Turkey, to undergo weapons training, Shin Bet said. Israel captured East Jerusalem, along with the West Bank and Gaza, in the 1967 war. It annexed East Jerusalem as its capital – a move not recognised abroad – and says it may cede West Bank territory to the Western-backed Palestinian Authority. It quit Gaza in 2005, leading to Hamas’s rise there.
Shin Bet said that a third Palestinian, from the city of Jenin, was in custody on suspicion of planning to set up an al-Qa’ida cell.
Earlier, an Israeli air strike killed a militant from the Palestinian faction Islamic Jihad blamed for a cross-border rocket salvo last week.