Yerushalayim (Ilana Messika/TPS) – The Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) arrested a terror cell responsible for planning a shooting attack against IDF soldiers in the Negev. The cell consisted of Israeli citizens who are members of the outlawed Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement.
Two of the cell’s members, 38-year-old Muhammad Masri from Be’er Sheva and 27-year-old Abdallah abu Ayyash from the Bedouin town of Kseifah, were arrested, taken for questioning, and indicted in December, 2016. Questioning of the suspects revealed the involvement of another Israeli citizen, 30-year-old Mahmoud Lewisi, who was in Turkey at the time and was arrested and taken for questioning immediately upon arriving in Israel in March 2017. Both Masri and Lewisi are known by the security forces for their former activities, especially Lewisi who founded and headed the Islamic Movement’s youth division.
Lewisi’s arrest led to the renewal of the investigation into the attack and to the discovery of the involvement of 45-year-old Faras al-Omri, a senior operative in the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement from the northern town of Sandala. Investigators revealed that Al-Omri was the agent the cell members consulted to obtain approval for the implementation of their plan. As part of his activity in the Islamic Movement, Al-Omri directed another illegal organization, called “Joseph the Righteous,” which handled matters related to security prisoners incarcerated in Israel and sought to maintain contact with them. Al-Omri also served as a security officer for Sheikh Raed Salah, the head of the Northern Branch.
In late November 2015, Masri and Lewisi visited the protest tent in Umm al-Fahm that was established after the Northern Branch was outlawed. Al-Omri met with the two in private and sought to recruit them for activities that included spray-painting messages of protest and the perpetration of a terror attack in Israel. Masri then recruited Abu-Ayyash to assist in finding a suitable location and a decommissioned vehicle for the attack.
Faras al-Omri gave Lewisi an improvised Carlo submachine gun in 2016 so Lewisi could pass it on to Masri in Be’er Sheva. Lewisi also gave Al-Omri electronic devices that could be used as remote detonators for improvised explosive devices. In addition, Al-Omri traveled to Turkey and met with Hamas operative Majid abu Qatish, a senior Hamas operative and a prisoner released in the Shalit exchange deal, to ask for financial assistance and operational guidance. Consequently, two other Israeli Arabs from the Galilee were arrested on suspicion of arms trafficking.
According to the Shin Bet, the investigation further proved that the Northern Branch continued to operate after it was banned in 2005.
“The Northern Branch has maintained close ties with Hamas throughout the years,” explained the Shin Bet in a statement. “The investigation showed that the common ideological basis and the deep connection between operatives in both organizations constitute a great security risk, particularly among Islamic Movement operatives moving from ostensibly humanitarian activity to terror activity.”
“The law enforcement agencies will continue to take all necessary steps to enforce the classification of the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement as a terrorist organization, with an emphasis on the prevention of any activity by the faction in light of the danger it poses to the security of the state,” concluded the statement.