Al-Qaeda-Linked Palestinians Charged With Planning Attack

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:17 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - For the first time, two West Bank Palestinians have been charged in an Israeli military court with belonging to al Qaeda and planning a major terror attack inside Israel.

Israeli experts have been warning for some time that al Qaeda has set its sights on carrying out a major terror attack in Israel, possibly as soon as this year.

Earlier this month, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas told the London-based al-Hayat newspaper that intelligence information indicated that al Qaeda had established a presence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

According to the indictment against them, Azzam Abu Al-Ades and Bilal Hafanawi established an al Qaeda cell in the West Bank city of Nablus and were planning a suicide bombing in a pizza parlor in northern Jerusalem, to be followed by a car bomb attack when rescue workers arrived.

Al-Ades and Hafanawi, both residents of Nablus, were recruited to al Qaeda in Jordan in 2005, security sources said. They were instructed to build up the al Qaeda infrastructure in the West Bank, for the purpose of carrying out massive attacks in Israel.

The two had close ties via the Internet with al Qaeda members in Jordan who issued orders and transferred large sums of money to the cell in Nablus. They had already recruited potential suicide bombers to carry out the planned attack in Jerusalem, the security sources said.

Israeli security forces arrested the two as they crossed the border into Israel from Jordan in December, and they were indicted on Tuesday. News of their capture was released to the press late in the day.

Hafanawi also is linked to Hamas and the al Aksa Martyrs' Brigades of the Fatah faction.

Experts say the group that calls itself al Qaeda in Mesopotamia (Iraq), led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, is planning to carry out attacks in countries surrounding Iraq. In November the group was blamed for bomb attacks on three Western-owned hotels in Amman.

Earlier this month, Zarqawi was handed his third death sentence in absentia in a Jordanian court for involvement in a thwarted attack that officials said could have killed thousands.

Lebanese officials have reported arrests of al Qaeda operatives in Lebanon. A group there claiming to belong to al Qaeda claimed responsibility for a rocket attack on northern Israel in December.

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