A growing number of Arab Israelis are disappearing from their homes and jobs to run off to Syria to “fight in the jihad,” joining up with Al Qaeda and ISIS-linked terror groups.
Then they are sent back to start cells of their own under the direction of Al Qaeda’s local Syrian branch, Jabhat al Nusra, or pledge their allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria — ISIS — itself.
Most get caught — like those who were indicted this month in district courts in the north and south of Israel.
One Israeli Arab who decided to go to Syria and join the Al Qaeda-linked Jabhat al Nusra terror organization didn’t really manage to get very far.
According to court papers filed in an indictment Thursday, Jan. 29, 2015 Amin Ahmed Salah Snobar, age 24, was arrested this month as soon as he arrived at Ben Gurion International Airport (Jan. 2) on a flight from Turkey.
Most wannabe terror recruits have been entering Syria via the border with Turkey. Israeli Arabs are no exception. It is impossible to penetrate Israel’s border with Lebanon or Syria without permission from either side and since both are still technically at war with the Jewish State, that isn’t happening unless there is an outstanding diplomatic purpose. Joining a global jihad organization doesn’t fall under that category.
Snobar, a resident of the northern village of Kfar Yassif, told interrogators from the Israel Security Agency (ISA/Shin Bet) that he left Israel on July 7, 2014 to join up with the radical Islamist rebels fighting Syrian government forces. Upon his arrival in Syria, he first spent time at a base run by the Ansar al-Sham rebel group, then he moved over to the Al Qaeda-linked Jabhat al Nusra, according to court documents. Snobar allegedly went through military training with both groups, learning about weapons and how to make bombs. He was put through a rigorous physical fitness program and then sent out on special missions.
“During his time in Syria … he was in touch with a number of elements who suggested to him, on a number of occasions, that it would be preferable for him to return to Israel and carry out attacks in Israel, or fight against it from within,” Thursday’s court papers stated.
According to the charge sheet submitted by northern district prosecutors at the Haifa District Court, Snobar received training in combat and underground warfare. He also was instructed on how to work in cells, how to arrive at destinations and how to operate firearms. He allegedly carried out armed patrols of Jabhat al-Nusra terrorist bases and underwent a training course in the use of heavy machine guns. He also allegedly learned how to load, aim and fire an RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) and handled a sniper rifle on multiple occasions.
The Shin Bet said that six months after arriving in Syria Snobar “decided to return to his family, retracing his path to Turkey and from there boarding a flight to Israel. Upon his return to Israel he was arrested at Ben Gurion International Airport and taken for Shin Bet questioning.”
Jabhat al Nusra was outlawed by the State of Israel, the ISA reminded in its communique to media. From June 2013 the group became the official Al Qaeda branch in Syria. Part of its charter calls for attacks on Israel.
“The phenomenon of Arab Israelis traveling to Syria is extremely grave and dangerous, as the Syrian arena is rife with active elements hostile to the State of Israel, with a focus on the global jihad operatives,” said the statement by the Shin Bet. “Arab Israelis who travel to this arena undergo military training and are exposed to extreme jihadist ideology. There is a concern that they will be exploited by terrorist elements to carry out military activity against Israel and gather information on targets in Israel.”
The phenomenon is certainly “grave and dangerous” but it is also becoming more and more common, creating a rising risk for those who employ Israeli Arabs as well as those who employ Palestinian Authority Arabs with legitimate working permits.
Less than two weeks ago, seven Israeli Arabs were indicted in the Haifa District Court – including an attorney from Nazareth who worked as a public defender – for allegedly attempting to set up a cell for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Israel. An eighth suspect with the group was indicted separately due to geographic considerations.
The seven suspects were identified as: Attorney Adnan Aladin, 40; Hasam Marisat, 30, a former security prisoner from Deir Hana; Karim Abu Tzala, 22; Ala’a Abu Tzala, 27; Halad Abu Tzahalh, 30; Sarif Khaled Abu Tzala, 29; and Muhammad Abu Tzala, 27, the latter training to become a pharmacist at the time of his arrest, according to the Shin Bet.
The eighth suspect, Omer Koush, was indicted separately on December 18 and arraigned December 29, 2014 in the Be’er Sheva District Court by the Southern District Attorney’s Office. Koush, a resident of a Bedouin village in the south, had recently finished medical studies in Jordan and was recruiting fighters for ISIS, the Shin Bet said.
The other seven were picked up in a joint Shin Bet-Israel Police operation in November and December of last year, although information on the case was held under a gag order until the indictment was filed this month. All seven confessed to having worked together since June 2014 to form a “Salafi Jihadist” group and had pledged allegiance to ISIS. They were part of a terror attack plot that targeted the Druze community in Israel as well as security personnel and others, the Shin Bet said.
A well-known radical Islamist Salafi cleric in northern Israel with whom they met on multiple occasions had called on the group to recruit more men to the cause, according to the Shin Bet. They learned how to make firebombs and also purchased sheep in order to practice slaughtering and to build up their tolerance for “slaughtering infidels in Syria,” according to the indictment.
Aladin referred to himself as the “commander of ISIS in Palestine,” the Shin Bet said, inciting the other members of the group to participate in terror attacks against Jews and to prepare them for their jihad. He was fired from his job with the Public Defender’s Office in July 2014 after uploading a Facebook post praising an alleged Islamic hadith on killing Jews.
The other six suspects, who are residents of Sakhnin, face charges of attempted contact with a foreign agent, membership and activity in a banned organization (ISIS was outlawed in September 2014 by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon) and aiding a terrorist organization. All had planned eventually to fight in Syria.