Jerusalem – Six Israeli Arabs, including two Hebrew University students and four Arab residents of East Jerusalem, have been indicted on the charge of planning to establish an al-Qaida cell in Israel. They also allegedly engaged in a plot to shoot down President George W. Bush’s helicopter, or any of the high-ranking officials belonging to the entourage, during his visit to Jerusalem last January.
The indictments, submitted two days ago to the Jerusalem District Court and to the Jerusalem Magistrates’ Court, allege Mahmad Najam, 24, of Nazareth, a third-year chemistry major at the Hebrew University, was the confessed ringleader. Mr. Najam studied on the Givat Ram campus and lived in the student dormitories, from which the helipad, used by high-ranking visitors to Jerusalem, at the university’s stadium can be seen.
According to the indictment, last January, around the time of President Bush’s visit to Israel, Mr. Najam noticed the helicopters training in takeoff and landing on the helipad. He then conceived the idea of shooting down one of Mr. Bush’s helicopters, and perhaps even that of the president himself, as they landed. He photographed the helicopters at the helipad with his cell phone for planning purposes.
Mr. Najam did not settle for just taking photographs. On Jan. 10, the day after Bush arrived in Israel, court documents say he logged onto a closed forum at Achlas, a Web site that identifies with al-Qaida. He uploaded the photographed clip. Under a pseudonym, Mr. Najam told the forum members, among other things, “Brothers, for the sake of Allah, does anyone know how to shoot down a helicopter and how this can be done?”
He allegedly shared his plan with five friends:
* Yusuf Soumrin, 21, of Jerusalem’s Beit Hanina, a former prisoner and the cell’s alleged commander;
* Anas Shouiki, 21, of Jerusalem’s Jebel Mukaber neighborhood;
* Kamel Abu Kouider, 22, from the Old City;
* Ahmed Shouiki, 21, of the United Nations UNRWA Shuafat refugee camp;
* Ibrahim Nashef , 22, of Taibe, a student of physics and computers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The six allegedly met at the al-Aqsa Mosque, where they formerly worshipped together. Mr. Soumrin, who is accused of having led the group, is said to have told his friends about Osama bin Laden’s ideology as well as about the al-Qaida organization, and convinced them to join its ranks. Under Mr. Soumrin’s leadership, the six men allegedly plotted to establish an al-Qaida cell in Israel and recruit other activists. Afterward, documents say Mr. Najam came with the idea to shoot down a helicopter.
Approximately a month ago, following a long, undercover investigation by the Israeli General Security Services, also known as the Shin Bet, and its central unit led by Asst. Cmdr. Avi Neumann of the computer crimes unit and, of the Jerusalem district’s minorities unit, police officers arrived at the homes of the six defendants and arrested them. Mr. Najam admitted he had sent the message about shooting down the helicopter, and he claimed during questioning “it was in fun.” Bomb- and explosive-building instructions that had been downloaded from the Internet was found on some of the defendants’ computers.
Last Friday, indictments were handed down against the six men, charging them (all or some of them) with the crimes of membership in a terrorist organization, conspiracy to aid and abet the enemy in time of war, possessing propaganda material in favor of a terrorist organization and soliciting to join a terrorist organization.
Mr. Najam’s indictment, signed by attorney Geula Cohen, also charged him with conspiracy to aid and abet the enemy and obstructing justice. On Friday, he came before Jerusalem District Court Judge Tzvi Segal, who ordered his stay in custody extended until the hearing, where it will be requested that he be held until the end of legal proceedings.
His father, Selim, was in attendance at the hearing and introduced himself as a journalist, director and academic. He said he had warned the GSS that his son was going around with people whom he found unacceptable over a year ago. “My son made a mistake, but in my humble opinion this is a tempest in a teacup. It’s all talk,” he said.
The other five defendants were also brought to court on Friday and their stays in custody were extended.
“We were shocked to hear that our students were allegedly involved in such activity, but the university will continue to treat Arab students equitably, without discrimination,” a Hebrew University spokeswoman said.
Mr. Najam’s fellow students were astonished at his arrest. “Najam talked a lot and sometimes said things that we felt were bizarre,” an Arab student who studied with him said yesterday, “but his talk never went as far as action.
The secretary of the Hadash student faction at the university, Khaled Oun, commented, “If and when it should turn out that the two students really operated in a terrorist framework, then they did so by themselves and acted on their own. No accusing finger should be pointed at all the Arab students.”
David Bedein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His Web site is www.IsraelBehindTheNews.com
©The Bulletin 2008