The most ambitious al-Qaida plot against Israel since 2000 was thwarted yesterday, the Washington Post reports. In a statement, Israel claims to have foiled an “advanced” al-Qaida plan to carry out a suicide bomb attack on the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, in addition to other attacks.
The Shin Bet intelligence agency arrested three Palestinian men, two from Jerusalem and one from the West Bank, allegedly responsible for planning the attacks. The operatives were recruited by a Palestinian cell under the direction of al Qaida-inspired jihadists in Gaza, where Hamas retains a stronghold and jihadist groups are on the rise.
The plan, under the leadership of al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, was for foreign bombers to arrive in Israel on Russian passports to attack the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv with explosives. Additional plans included bombing a Jerusalem conference center and then attacking rescue workers with a truck bomb. Operatives also planned to shoot out the tires of a bus and then gun down passengers and ambulance workers.
Shin Bet representatives said two of the Palestinian operatives used their Israeli resident cards to gather information about the Israeli transit systems and prospective targets.
Aviv Oreg, a former head of the Israeli military intelligence unit that tracks al-Qaida, commented:
“This is the first time that Ayman al-Zawahri was directly involved,” he said. “For them, it would have been a great achievement.”
According to the State Department, the U.S. has not yet corroborated the Israeli claims. Spokeswoman Marie Harf assured reporters Wednesday that the State Department was looking into it. “I don’t have reason to believe it’s not true. I just don’t have independent verification,” she said.
There are currently no plans to evacuate the U.S. Embassy, though security measures have been increased in wake of the arrests.