Hizbullah infiltrates Israeli Arab political party

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

TEL AVIV Israeli security sources said Hizbullah has recruited members of at least one major Israeli Arab party. The party was identified as the Balad movement, led by Knesset member Azmi Bishara.

The sources said Hizbullah recruited and organized an insurgency cell from senior members of Balad in 2003. They said the cell was financed, trained and equipped to carry out suicide attacks against Israeli targets.

On Sunday, the Israel Security Agency reported the arrest of the suspected cell, based in the area around the northern city of Nazareth, Middle East Newsline reported. The two key operatives of the cell were identified as Ghassan and Sirhan Atmallah, arrested in January 2004.

The security sources said Ghassan and his brother Sirhan were recruited by Ibrahim Ajwa, head of the Abu Mussa group in Jordan. Ajwa has been identified as a recruiter for Hizbullah.

The Atmallah brothers traveled to Turkey in December 2003, to meet Hizbullah agents. The two Israelis were then sent to Lebanon for training in the use of weapons, bomb assembly and detection of surveillance.

"During conversations in Turkey, Atmallah discussed the following with Hizbullah terrorists: establishing a terrorist infrastructure among Israeli Arabs that would be financed by Hizbullah and under its military guidance, preparing a list of candidates for military training, types of war materiel that Sirhan would need," the ISA statement said.

At one point, the sources said, Sirhan sent a shipment of diapers from Turkey to Israel's port of Haifa. The sources said the shipment was meant to determine Israeli security at the port.

"He [Ghassan] began to develop several business ventures with Turkish merchants in order to provide cover for his deals on behalf of Hizbullah," the statement said.

In late January, the ISA raided the Balad headquarters and carted off computer disks and documents. Balad has denied any link to Hizbullah.

Ghassan, held in administrative detention three times on a range of security offenses, is a member of Balad's central committee.

Israeli security sources said authorities broke up six Israeli Arab insurgency cells during 2003. They said Hizbullah has made major inroads in the Israeli Arab community in the north, often recruiting Arab citizens by offering them illegal drugs from Lebanon.

"The investigation of the Atmallah brothers revealed an attempt to establish a terrorist infrastructure among Israeli Arabs, which was financed and guided by Hizbullah in order to perpetrate terrorist attacks inside Israel," the ISA said.

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