Israel stops plot to smuggle suicide bombers in containers

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

JERUSALEM Israel has stopped a Palestinian effort to smuggle suicide attackers in cargo containers meant for shipment from the Gaza Strip.

The officials said a Palestinian Authority security officer sought to establish a Hamas-financed shipping company to conceal suicide bombers in cargo sent from the Gaza Strip.

In March 2004, Hamas suicide attackers concealed in containers from the Gaza Strip infiltrated the Israeli port of Ashkelon. The attackers walked out of the containers and blew themselves up in the port, killing 10 Israeli employees, Middle East Newsline reported.

Officials said identified the PA officer as Muin Atallah. They said Atallah, arrested on June 6, was a security officer at the Karni terminal in the eastern Gaza Strip and oversaw the entry of Palestinian cargo into Israel. They said he planned to smuggle two suicide attackers out of the Gaza Strip for an attack in the Jewish state.

Atallah was also said to have been involved in the smuggling of the two suicide bombers in the Ashdod port bombing in March. The PA security officer told Israeli interrogators earlier this month that his position gave him wide access to cargo leaving the Gaza Strip.

"Atallah said that the terrorist organizations view the Karni crossing as a weak point, lacking full security checks, and providing an attractive route for smuggling terrorists into Israel," an Israeli security source said.

Israeli officials said the plot included the ruling Fatah movement and the Islamic opposition Hamas.

Officials said Israeli authorities captured 58 would-be suicide bombers in 2004. They said 2,000 Palestinian insurgents were arrested and that many of them relayed information that helped foil suicide attacks in Israel.

"We are seeing a decline in the extent of terror and this has come at great effort," Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said.

On Wednesday, an Israeli combat unit deployed in the northern Gaza Strip town of Bet Hanoun in an attempt to stop the launch of Kassam-class short-range missiles by Hamas. At least six suspected insurgents were killed in the operation, which began on Tuesday.

In the West Bank, Israeli troops captured the military leader of Islamic Jihad in the northern city of Nablus. Israeli military sources said Muhana Abu Aysha was an expert in the assembly of suicide belts given to insurgents. Abu Aysha's aide was killed in Wednesday's military operation.

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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