Iranian-back Islamic Jihad gains support among Israeli Arabs

Special to World
Friday, April 4, 2003

TEL AVIV An Iranian-backed Palestinian insurgency group has made serious inroads in the Arab community in Israel.

Israeli officials said authorities have uncovered numerous links between Islamic Jihad and Arab citizens in a range of communities in Israel. They said Jihad, with financing from Iran, has recruited Israeli Arabs in contacts in the West Bank as well as abroad.

Authorities have disclosed arrests of two Jihad cells composed of Israeli Arabs in as many days. On Wednesday, the Jihad cell was said to have been composed of Israeli Arabs from Jaljulia east of Tel Aviv. On Thursday, Arab suspects from the northern town of Kafr Manda were arrested.

"This is a trend and we can no longer play it down," a senior Israeli security official said. "What we don't want to do is accuse the entire Israeli Arab community and then make them feel they have nothing to lose by helping us."

The Kafr Manda cell was allegedly composed of three Arab citizens. Officials said the suspects were planning to launch attacks on nightclubs in Haifa.

The suspects were said to have confessed to establishing the Jihad cell last month. Officials said a Jihad agent contacted the head of the cell, Mahmoud Abdul Khalim when he was on a pilgrimage to the Saudi city of Mecca in November 2002. The Jihad agent was said to have been based in the Gaza Strip.

"When Khalim returned to Israel, Islamic Jihad terrorists contacted him and asked him to establish a military cell in order to perpetrate attacks," a statement by the Israel Security Agency said. "Khalim recruited Ibrahim Abdul Khamid and Mohammed Abdel Khamid, who agreed to work with him. The three planned to plant a bomb in a crowded place in the Haifa area and obtain weapons from Negev Bedouins."

Officials said Hamas, Jihad and other Islamic insurgency groups have tried to recruit Israeli Arabs during their pilgrimage to Mecca. Saudi Arabia allows thousands of Israeli Arabs to make the trip.

In the West Bank city of Tulkarm, Israeli forces captured and interrogated about 1,000 Palestinians from the nearby refugee camp. Israeli military sources said a search of the camp uncovered fertilizers and other chemical agents that could be used in bombing attacks. They said Anwar Ilyan, described as the commander of Islamic Jihad, was capture. Ilyan was said to have planned to bring a car full of explosives into Israel for a suicide attack.

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