Jerusalem Terror Cell Just Tip of the Iceberg of Arab Terrorism

by DEBKAfile

21 August 2002

Israel’s security and police authorities are keeping their aces well covered even after publicizing their coup on Wednesday, August 21. Saturday night, August 16, they captured a six- man cell of Jerusalemite Arabs, all bearing Israeli identity cards, who admit to complicity in executing 8 of the most devastating terrorist attacks in the last three months, in which 35 Israelis died and dozens were gravely wounded in different parts of the country.

Their “feats” included the remote control bombing at the Hebrew University’s Frank Sinatra cafeteria on Mount Scopus that killed nine, including five American citizens (An Israeli newspaper was laid atop the bomb bag and it was drenched in perfume to throw sniffer dogs off the scent); the suicide blast that destroyed the stylish Jerusalem Moment café, leaving 11 Israelis dead; the suicide attack at a Rishon Lezion club which murdered 15 Israelis, as well as twice planting explosive devices on railway lines and two attempts to sabotage fuel trucks.

The cell leader is Waal Kasem, 31, from Ras el Amud. The Mount Scopus bomber, Muhammed O’da, from Silwan village, knew exactly where and when to strike, having worked at the Hebrew University for years as a house painter. He went in to work as usual the day after the massacre. Muhammed Arman from Hirba, near Ramallah, was the cell’s go-between with the high operations command in Ramallah, which sent down orders and laid on the explosives. The group included a glazier employed in Rishon Lezion and an air conditioning technician working in Tel Aviv.

Without detracting from Israel’s success in rounding up the ring, DEBKAfile’s counter-terror experts note the word “admitted” used instead of “committed” in the official communiqué - denoting reservations about the capability of this six-man unit to carry out this many operations over such a large area in so short a time – roughly five months.

One theory is that they owned up to divert attention from their masters who are working hard on a horrendous cycle of fresh terror attacks after several weeks of being frustrated in their efforts by the presence of IDF forces in all the main West Bank Palestinian towns. Another possibility is that the high command in Ramallah, where Yasser Arafat has his headquarters, is trying out Jerusalemite Palestinians as its new instruments of terror, because of the difficulties in deploying West Bankers.

Until now, Jerusalem Arabs stayed clear of Arafat’s Intifada and prospered in comparison with their brethren in Palestinian-controlled areas. However, their usefulness clearly tempts, especially in view of Jerusalem’s proximity to Ramalah. The Arabs of Jerusalem enjoy the freedom to move around Israel with Israeli identity cards and Israeli number plates on the cars; they do not need permits to work in Israel – and many do. The cell’s commanders were therefore able to activate the six over an area of operation covering all of central Israel - Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Holon, Rishon Lezion, Rehovot and Lod - in surveillance and as planners, liaison, field operatives and handlers of suicide killers, while avoiding the practice themselves.

Saturday night, August 10, the first two captive terrorists were taken in after a firefight a stone’s throw from the Bukharan Quarter synagogue where Rabbi Ovadia Yosef was delivering a sermon. They soon led to the other four. Before closing in on their quarry, Shin Bet and special police (“The Gideons”) agents roped off the streets in this religious neighborhood and told people to stay indoors. After the arrests were made, bloodstains were found on the street attesting to a fight.

Israeli defense minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer’s plan to induce a truce by the Israeli army’s experimental handover to Palestinian security of responsibility for terror prevention in the Gaza Strip, Bethlehem and possibly Hebron, is probably doomed to a (not very) quiet death – even after the capture of the dangerous terror ring in Jerusalem. That is far from putting paid to the menace. DEBKAfile’s counter-terror sources report that the two bomb-cars apprehended near Jenin Saturday night by Israeli troops were just the beginning. Five suicide killers are known to be on their way to mass-casualty targets in Israel. The Palestinians are also trying to plant a truck loaded with chemical fertilizers converted into explosives in a large Israeli city center. Three more major strikes are planned for Jerusalem. Following their effective attack at the Mount Scopus campus, Palestinian terror masters are preparing further assaults on Israeli universities, now eyeing Haifa. There are also reports of potential terrorist landings by sea.
Perhaps the most curious feature of the official Israeli communiqué is the way it fails to attach the captured cell to any Palestinian group or organization, beyond the vague mention of Ramallah.

Some sources have tried attributing the ring to Hamas, maybe because its leaders declared they wanted no part of Ben Eliezer’s understanding with the Palestinian Authority.

But if the cell’s trail leads to Ramallah, it cannot be Hamas, where the Islamic extremist group has no real standing. This West Bank hub town just north of Jerusalem is the fief of one man – Yasser Arafat. The Ramallah reference is therefore nothing but a veiled hint at the man who rules the roost there.