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JERUSALEM – For the first time ever, two West Bank Palestinians today were charged with membership in al-Qaida, stoking fears here the global jihad group has infiltrated the Jewish state.
The indictment follows months of warnings by Israeli intelligence officials al-Qaida was able to make it to the area after Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip last summer.
Two Palestinians from the West Bank town of Nablus were charged in a north Samaria military court with recruiting suicide bombers and seeking financing to carry out a large-scale al-Qaida attack inside Israel.
Azzam abu-al-Adas and Balal Hafnawi, both in their 20s, are accused of traveling to Jordan to meet an al-Qaida operative about their planned attack, which included the use of car bombs. They received funding from al-Qaida’s Jordan branch, according to a court indictment, and were planning to recruit Palestinians in the West Bank to set up an al-Qaida cell in the territory.
The two were arrested in December while trying to cross from Jordan back into Israel. At the time, security officials say they were in the planning stages of an attack on the French Hill section of Jerusalem that was to involve a suicide bomber exploding among diners, followed by a second nearby explosion by car bomb.
The court indictment stated an al-Qaida member in the Gaza Strip would be sent to assist in the operation.
Abbas: Signs of al-Qaida in Palestinian territories
After months of denying the jihad group was able to infiltrate Palestinian territories, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas last month announced there were signs al-Qaida had established itself in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.
“We have indications about a presence of al-Qaida in Gaza and the (West) Bank. This is intelligence information. We have not yet reached the point of arrests,” Abbas said.
“The last security report I received was three days ago,” Abbas told the London-based al-Hayat newspaper. “This is the first time that I’ve spoken about this subject. This is a very serious matter.”
Israel: Al-Qaida infiltrated after Gaza withdrawal
Abbas’ statements followed a series of warnings by senior Israeli intelligence officials that al-Qaida operatives infiltrated Gaza while the Rafah crossing, the main terminal at Gaza’s border with Egypt’s Sinai desert, was opened for several days immediately after Israel’s withdrawal from the area this past August.
Egyptian officials attempted to close the border several times, but Hamas and other terror groups managed to reopen the crossing, once using a controlled explosion along the border fence and another time ramming a dump truck through the border wall.
Egypt has admitted to difficulty eliminating al-Qaida cells in Sinai suspected of involvement in recent terror attacks, including the bombings in Sharm el Sheikh in July and Taba last year, which together killed more than 100 people.
In September, Maj. Gen. Aharon Zeevi Farkash, chief of intelligence for the Israeli Defense Forces, said al-Qaida infiltrated Gaza and was interested in attacking Israel.
Security officials said they feared al-Qaida terrorists who made it to Gaza will try to cross into the West Bank’s Palestinian population centers, which border many of Israel’s major cities.
Yaacov Amidror, former chief of research for Israeli military intelligence, told WND al-Qaida may seek to use Gaza as a sanctuary to plan attacks throughout the Middle East.
“Today, one of the weaknesses of al-Qaida is its lack of a safe haven in the Middle East,” Amidror said. “The new realities in Gaza will make it one of the most convenient places for al-Qaida to base their global operations. The Gaza Strip will become a paradise because it will be an area in which the population and the terror groups in power, especially Hamas, share the same ideology as al-Qaida.”
Al-Qaida and Hamas: Ideological partners?
Reuven Erlich, director of the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center at Israel’s Center for Special Studies, stressed the common ideological links between al-Qaida and Hamas, which is currently forming the next PA government.
The link, Erlich said, can be emphasized through Palestinian cleric Abdullah Azzam, who was al-Qaida’s ideologue and until his death, Osama bin Laden’s spiritual mentor.
“We found Azzam’s picture on Hamas posters from Gaza and a lot of Hamas material,” Erlich told WND. “Azzam’s portrait in materials reveal that he is perceived by Hamas as one of the four ‘outstanding figures’ of the Islamic ‘struggle’ in Palestine and around the world.”
Al-Qaida leader in Palestine soon to be revealed?
An al-Qaida leader as important as overall terror chief Osama bin Laden and the group’s Iraq leader Abu Musab Zarqawi will soon reveal himself in the Palestinian territories and orchestrate local and global jihad from the area, according to a pamphlet distributed last month in the Gaza Strip and obtained by WorldNetDaily.
The pamphlet, signed by a group calling itself the Jaish al Jihad, or Army of Jihad, claimed to speak for al-Qaida. It warned all non-Muslims and foreign embassies to vacate the Palestinian areas within one month.
“Is there now among us a person like Saladin, like Sheik Osama bin Laden, like Abu Musab Zarqawi? The answer is yes. We have this man and he will appear with the help of Allah very soon on the land of Palestine,” said the pamphlet, which was intercepted by the Palestinian General Intelligence after being circulated in southern Gaza.