Saturday, April 27, 2013

What is the link between Boston and al-Aqsa?

The conceptual link between global terror and al-Aqsa, experts say, is a problem that mainly threatens Europe and the U.S., but the escalation of violence on the Temple Mount itself is a problem that is all ours -- and it must be addressed urgently.

Nadav Shragai..
Israel Hayom..
26 April '13..

What is the link between Chechen jihadists, with whom the Tsarnaev brothers -- the alleged terrorists who set off bombs at the Boston Marathon last week -- were thought to have been affiliated, and the inspiration for an east Jerusalem terror cell that reportedly planned to murder Jewish worshippers and police officers on the Temple Mount several weeks ago? How is the ideology that motivated the Boston bombing as well as the foiled Temple Mount terror attempt connected to the Islamic "party of liberation" Hizb ut-Tahrir, which operates within the Palestinian Authority, in east Jerusalem and in secret terror cells in Europe? And what is the relationship between some of the terror cells that have come out of the Israeli Arab population in recent years and these sources of inspiration?

The answer to these questions lies in religious publications, in sermons, in various websites and in Muslim books of religious law. Various surveillance and assessment bodies that deal with this type of material have held the following belief for quite some time: Islamic terror, in terms of its general worldview, boils down to the vision of establishing a global Islamic caliphate, in the spirit of the Prophet Muhammad, with Jerusalem as its capital.

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A particularly vocal supporter of this vision is Sheikh Raad Salah, the head of the northern chapter of the Islamic Movement in Israel, who calls himself "Sheikh al-Aqsa." This vision is shared by at least some of the spiritual authorities that preside over international jihadist terror, which has many offshoots. Jerusalem and al-Aqsa, which have always been regarded as central symbols, have recently begun to play a more central role in the incitement and calls for battle: "Al-Aqsa is in danger." Today, the Muslim world openly blames Israel for planning and trying to destroy their holy mosque. The prevalent description of the al-Aqsa compound as being "held captive, under threat, desecrated and defiled" by Jews and Israelis, fans the flames and injects adrenaline directly into the arteries of jihadist terrorists around the globe.

This process -- interpreting the "al-Aqsa is in danger" call as a green light to perpetrate terror and as a rubber stamp that legitimizes jihadist terror -- has been ongoing for years. There are countless examples. Intelligence agencies in Israel and around the world have plenty of examples on record, but the general public is seldom exposed to them. They suggest a conceptual connection between global terror and al-Aqsa. They also suggest a similar conceptual connection between global jihad and the story in Chechnya, where the al-Aqsa mosque also serves as the connecting link.

The following two examples illustrate this point better than any other -- the first example isn't new, but it is always relevant: the commander of the militia belonging to the Chechen Shura Council, Emir Khattab (killed in 2002), who once served as the deputy to Dzhokhar Dudayev, the leader of the Chechen rebels (who was killed by the Russians), once said in an interview with Al-Jazeera that "though we are currently embroiled in jihad and are waging a serious battle against the Russian forces, which are a thousand times larger and better armed than the Israeli army, our ultimate goal is to stand beside our brothers in Jerusalem and in al-Aqsa al-Sharif to the best of our ability. We have not forgotten and we will never forget our brothers in al-Aqsa. Al-Aqsa is the top priority for us and for the entire Muslim world. Today, the Mujahideen began, Allah be blessed, taking practical steps toward military action against the Jews …"

This display of commitment often goes in the opposite direction as well -- with al-Aqsa professing its loyalty to their brothers in Chechnya, including an explicit reference to the vision of the global Islamic caliphate. An imam from Nazareth, Nazam Abu-Salim, who was sentenced to three years in prison last September for publicly supporting al-Qaida and global jihad, and even called for specific violent measures that ultimately led to the murder of a Jewish man, visited the al-Aqsa mosque several years ago. He addressed the masses there, speaking of Islam's "discourse of swords" and the "criminals upon this earth" who are "infidels who have no faith." He spoke about the sword of Muhammad Ibn Maslamah (a companion of the Prophet Muhammad) and about the "truth that will uproot the infidels from the face of the earth and bring an honest Islamic caliphate into power, with the holy city of Jerusalem as its capital …"

The imam from Nazareth also spoke about jihad, calling "God, support the jihad fighters, make them strong … Help the jihad fighters wherever they are, in Afghanistan, in Chechnya, in Iraq, in greater Syria and in Palestine …"

The Europeans are also aware of the burgeoning conceptual connection between global terror and the "al-Aqsa is in danger" mantra and the fact that al-Aqsa, as it is described by some, has become one of the main engines driving this kind of terror. One person who put these things plainly on the table during a conference several years ago hosted by the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism (held at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya), was Shiraz Maher, a young British man of Pakistani descent, who once headed one of the Hizb ut-Tahrir cells in Britain.

Hizb ut-Tahrir, which was outlawed in several Arab and European countries, also incorporates the vision of the global Islamic caliphate with Jerusalem as its capital in its own vision. In Germany, for example, the organization was outlawed when it emerged that the mastermind behind the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, Mohammed Atta, had been inspired by the Hizb ut-Tahrir ideology.

Maher, who has since "repented," came to Israel for the conference and enlisted in the campaign against global terror. His remarks during the conference have become that much more meaningful today: Maher described how, in his past, he had preached in support of terror, justified Hamas' actions, backed bombings on buses and the killing of children, and how for years, he was dogged by the calls of the leaders of his organization who said "you are the children of Saladin, you must liberate al-Aqsa at any cost."

YouTube videos of terror attacks

Not much has changed since. On the contrary. The east Jerusalem terror cell that was apprehended several weeks ago, whose members have been kept in custody until proceedings against them are complete, had, according the Israel Security Agency, also planned to carry out a terror attack on the Temple Mount to "protect the al-Aqsa mosque." Veterans of the Israel Security Agency can probably recall quite a few instances where the Temple Mount and its mosques served as a gathering place and planning headquarters for countless terror outfits, right before heading out to execute a murderous attack. But even they say that there is no known precedent for a cell planning to attack Jews on the Temple Mount itself -- something that is ostensibly in violation of Islamic law, which forbids spilling blood in a holy place.

According to the ISA's version of events, which will come to light in the courts in the coming months, Nur Bin Shahadeh Hamdan, a resident of the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Ras al-Amud, recruited three of his friends, also from east Jerusalem, and over the course of the last two months (February and March) met with them numerous times to plan the shooting and murder of Jewish security personnel and worshippers on the Temple Mount. Other than the urgent need to "protect al-Aqsa," it turned out that Hamdan got his inspiration from routinely watching YouTube videos depicting terror attacks. These videos documented attacks in Jerusalem, and one attack in particular: The attack on the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva in March 2008 (when a shooter killed eight students and wounded dozens).

Hamdan, who makes his living working at a shop in the Old City in Jerusalem, decided to put his plan into action. He saw a photo of Mohammed Hijazi, the commander of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade in Gaza, together with Wafa al-Bass, a Palestinian prisoner who was among the 27 women released in the Schalit prisoner exchange deal. At that point he decided to get in touch with al-Bass, who was returned to Gaza, in efforts to connect with Hijazi, who he hoped would provide his team with weapons.

Al-Bass was arrested in 2005 after she was caught with 10 kilograms (22 pounds) of explosives strapped to her body, en route to carry out a suicide bombing at the Soroka Hospital in Beersheba. Upon her release from an Israeli prison, she voiced hope that "more shahids" or martyrs, would follow in her footsteps. Hamdan hoped that al-Bass would help him.

The internet served as a means of communication for the two. Later, Hamdan tried to make contact online with members of Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the Hamas military wing. He and his friends even held target practice in an open area near Qalandiya. But they were caught before they could complete their intended task.

It was only a few weeks ago that the ISA captured another cell associated with Hamas whose members had hurled firebombs at Israeli police officers on the Temple Mount. Despite the close timing of these two arrests, security officials insist that the phenomenon of carrying out attacks on the Temple Mount itself is not at all common. The more common practice is to use the mosques on the mount to organize and plan terror attacks elsewhere. There is no shortage of examples:

Members of another east Jerusalem cell apprehended several years ago, some of them students at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, who planned to establish an al-Qaida network in Israel and carry out attacks, would regularly meet at the al-Aqsa mosque. One of them had even considered an attack against the plane carrying then-U.S. President George W. Bush during the latter's visit to Jerusalem in January 2008. The cell was headed by Youssef Sumrin, a former prisoner held on security charges, who taught religion at the al-Aqsa mosque. Two of the cell members had attended his lessons.

The terrorists who planned to fire a missile into Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem during a crowded soccer game in the spring of 2010 were also inextricably linked to the Temple Mount (as we reported in depth in September 2011). Two of them had worked as Hamas representatives at the al-Aqsa mosque for three years. In August, 2011, a serious terror attack was prevented in Jerusalem when Said Koasmeh, a terrorist who planned to blow himself up in the Pisgat Ze'ev neighborhood of Jerusalem was apprehended while hiding near the al-Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount.

In the more distant past, terror cells used to convene on the Temple Mount to plan attacks. These meetings characterized the group that threw hand grenades at a unit of Israel Defense Forces Givati cadets not too far from the Dung Gate in the Old City. The cell that kidnapped and murdered Border Police officer Nissim Toledano in December 1992 and then murdered traffic police officers Daniel Hazut and Mordechai Israel in March 1993 also planned their attacks on the Temple Mount.

Arab headquarters on Temple Mount

Israel Hasson, former commander of the Jerusalem district in the ISA and the deputy director of the ISA, who currently serves as a Kadima MK, says that "the use of Temple Mount mosques to recruit terror cells is no different than the use of the many mosques throughout Judea and Samaria to recruit far more terrorists. From my perspective, the recruiting and planning done under the protection of al-Aqsa is no different than any similar activity that is underway at three separate mosques in Beit Safafa, but obviously if you look at it from a symbolic perspective, when these things happen on the Temple Mount, they are viewed differently."

Hasson reveals for the first time how he and his colleagues had foiled a planned attack against worshippers at the Western Wall, which would have been perpetrated from the Temple Mount. "That terror cell had a plan to prepare pipe bombs and lower them, undetected, using fishing wire, into the caper bushes that grow on the Western Wall. The bombs were scheduled to be set off at a time when the area would be packed, and they were supposed to cause shrapnel injuries mainly to worshippers' heads. Fortunately for us, that terror cell had a work accident on the day prior to the planned attack, and that is how we were able to apprehend them."

Former Public Security Minister Avi Dichter, who also served as director of the ISA for many years, describes the Temple Mount as a "clear marker that, in the eyes of terrorists, provides a kind of immunity. Terrorists believe that meetings can take place undisturbed on Temple Mount, and that there, the security bodies' surveillance and oversight abilities are diminished."

"The members of the terror cells have a better chance of blending in with the crowd on the Temple Mount," Dichter explains. "In a village or a regular neighborhood, strangers who arrive at a local mosque immediately draw attention, but on Temple Mount, everyone is a stranger. The Temple Mount is, by nature, a place where people who don't know each other meet. It is a place that draws Israeli Arabs, Palestinians from Judea and Samaria and residents of east Jerusalem. That is the place's main selling point as the location for conspiratorial meetings."

Dichter mentions Jordan's growing influence on the Temple Mount, and remarks that the local Waqf, the administrators of the site, are under Jordanian pressure to prevent disorderly conduct and terror both on Temple Mount and coming out of it. "It is not a very well-kept secret. Everyone knows that any incidence of terror on the Temple Mount would limit the access of Muslim worshippers to the site, and that fewer and fewer young people will be allowed to enter Temple Mount. Fortunately, the State of Israel has particularly excellent intelligence on that compound," Dichter says.

The use of the Temple Mount for the purpose of terror is not a new phenomenon. It began during the time of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, during the Arab revolt of 1936 to 1939. Haj Amin launched that revolt, and the British, who had already stripped him of all his official duties, wanted to have him arrested. The Mufti fled and took refuge on Temple Mount. In October 1937, he managed to trick the British and fled the country.

During that time, the mosques on the Temple Mount were used to store weapons, and the Temple Mount compound had become a safe haven for members of Arab gangs that were taking part in the Arab revolt.

Dr. Dotan Goren of Bar-Ilan University, in one of his research projects, documented reports regarding large weapon stockpiles that were hidden among construction supplies on the Temple Mount. The Temple Mount also served a military purpose during the War of Independence in 1948. Rafi Kitron, who studies the history of weapon caches in pre-state Israel, recently discovered a report dating back to December 1947 that suggests Arab headquarters was situated on the Temple Mount. The headquarters handed out weapons to Arab fighters.

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Are there weapons stashed on the Temple Mount today as well? Some frequenters of the Temple Mount claim that there are, but the allegations have been rejected by all security agencies. Furthermore, security officials assure us that under the current reality in the State of Israel, with the security and supervision mechanisms currently in place on Temple Mount, such a thing would be impossible. But they, too, admit that there has been a serious escalation in recent months.

The two cells that were recently apprehended, the "popular" cell that hurled firebombs at police officers, and the more advanced cell that planned a shooting attack on Temple Mount, reflect a distressing reality. The conceptual link between global terror and al-Aqsa, experts say, is a problem that mainly threatens Europe and the U.S., but the escalation of violence on the Temple Mount itself is a problem that is all ours -- and it must be addressed urgently.


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